A look ahead to this week's must-win games|
Amongst this weekend's Premier League fixture, we put focus on two potential relegation ‘six-pointers': West Ham v Swansea and Middlesbrough v Burnley.
West Ham's bubble burst a long time ago. The move to the Olympic Stadium and the acrimonious departure of star man Dimitri Payet saw to that.
But the Hammers' problems have since deteriorated to such an extent that the home game against Swansea has the feel of a relegation six-pointer irrespective of the outcome of both sides' midweek games against north London opposition.
Prior to Wednesday's visit to Arsenal, West Ham had picked up only two points from a possible 18 – the second worst run of form over a six-match period – leaving them contemplating the unthinkable: a relegation battle. While they are not the odds-on favourite to see the Championship, at 22/1, the free bet offers here may catch the eye of the punters.
Having seen how late changes of management have helped Crystal Palace and Leicester, owners David Sullivan and David Gold are probably thinking they should have brought Slaven Bilic's reign to an immediate end in a bid to arrest the Hammers' slide down the Premier League table.
But they have stuck by the Croat, issuing a recent statement saying that “they have 100 per cent faith” in their former defender cum manager.
West Ham will attempt to win their first home game in five when Swansea pay a visit to the London Stadium. However, opposing teams have raised their game here than the other way around. Swansea have yet to play at the Stratford venue in the Premier League but if they do as well as they did in the final game at Upton Park – a 4-1 win last May – the alarm bells really will be ringing in east London.
West Ham, however did turn the tables on the Swans when they paid the Liberty Stadium a visit on Boxing Day in what was arguably their best result of the season, with the scoreline once again 4-1.
Both teams are as hard to read as a Shane Warne googly but we reckon that it's West Ham who'll continue to be in a spin come 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon.
Having fought out a 0-0 draw down at Swansea last weekend, Middlesbrough face another vital game in their battle to avoid the drop with a visit from out-of-sorts Burnley this Saturday. The Clarets have failed to win in 15 matches away from their Turfmoor fortress and need to snap that run if they, too, are not going to be sucked into the scrap to avoid relegation.
‘Boro are currently in the bottom three and, likewise, they know that three points is a must. To do that, they need to find a goal from somewhere. Herein lies the problem. The Teessiders have not scored more than once in a game at the Riverside since mid-December and the negativity surrounding both their play and the mood in the north east cost the unpopular Aitor Karanka his job.
With relegation rivals, Sunderland and Hull, facing the two Manchester clubs, who are both chasing Champions League place, ‘Boro need to take advantage of an easier-looking game on paper with a good outcome against Burnley.