Harry Fitzpatrick > With the wait to see Mark Noble lifting the FA Cup extended by another year, our focus has turned to the remainder of the league season. Moyes got it right again against an in-form Sheffield United side giving us a 3-0 win and firing us up to fourth, albeit only for a couple of hours.
With six wins in eight league games, hopes for European football next season are turning from pipe dream to genuine possibility. However, after back-to-back games against relegation candidates the fixture list now takes a turn for the worse with four of the next five games against teams in the ‘big six’. If the form continues, there is every chance of snatching a Champions League spot, but if things go wrong, we could easily slide into mid-table mediocrity.
First up is the big one. Spurs visit the London Stadium in turmoil after their humbling defeat to Manchester City last weekend, which stretched their torrid run to just one win in six across all competitions. The clichés say that form books go out of the window on derby day, so there can be no room for complacency. Harry Kane and co will have been stewing on the reverse fixture for months desperate for revenge whilst Mourinho will not allow a repeat performance from his side.
On the other hand, Moyes will have also learned a lot over the last few months and will be better prepared to cope with Tottenham’s front three. We can’t rely on a 95th minute screamer to save a point. Mourinho will know an Irons win takes us nine points clear of Spurs and that will be very difficult to claw back as we hit the business end of the season, so I can see him setting up for the draw, with the hope of nicking a winner on the counter. I think Moyes would also take a point and set up in a similar style. A low scoring draw is most likely in my eyes.
After Tottenham’s visit, we travel up to Manchester to play Pep’s city. This is often one to watch from behind the sofa for us, with the score turning ugly. City have won 16 consecutive games, potentially 19 before we play them. This year feels different for us though. The fear of the ‘big six’ feels lifted despite our poor results against them this season. My heart says we can end Pep’s run, especially with their Champions League tie in Budapest the midweek before we play them. Lingard would also love to damage their title aspirations to help his parent club. My eyes have seen too many drubbings at the Etihad to get too excited though. Heart says 1-1, head says 3-0 City.
To start March, we welcome Bielsa’s Leeds to London. They are one of the league’s most unpredictable teams, having lost 6-2 earlier this season, but also winning games 5-0 and 5-2. Their all-out attack approach could play into our hands on the big London Stadium pitch, with plenty of space for the likes of Lingard and Benrahma to counter-attack into. Set pieces proved to be the difference between the sides in December at Elland Road, with Ogbonna’s late header from a wide free kick giving us the 3 points. Whether Angelo will be back for the return fixture is unknown but with Dawson, Soucek and Rice all threats from set plays, we are still a danger as their Yorkshire neighbours learned on Monday. There’s no reason why we can’t take the points from this match, and if we want to make the top 6 this is the sort of game we must win. Id go for a 3-1 home win.
Overall, this is a tough run of games. Continue the good form and we could sneak five, possibly even seven points from these three games. That would be a great return against some of the league’s most dangerous teams. I would expect Moyes would be looking for a minimum of four and if we can take anything from Manchester it will be a massive bonus.