There is hope at last that the ongoing Covid disaster is finally coming towards some kind of close, or at least improved management in the U.K., and that when we embark upon the 2021/22 football season in August – less than six months away folks – it will be in front of proper crowds, perhaps fully opened stadia once again.
Liverpool Suffer From Empty Stadium, While Hammers Benefit
By Dave Bowler
In the light of the Covid costs, in terms of lives, health in general, both physical and mental, and the economic toll it has taken, talking about football’s winners and losers is relatively unimportant, but it’s what we fans do and, as we head towards the final furlong of this campaign, it’s becoming apparent who has come out of this badly and who has actually revelled in it.
The big losers, quite clearly, are Liverpool. This would always have been a tough season for them after all the emotion of finally clinching the title last term, but the truncated season allied to their high octane style of play has made for a perfect storm on the injury front, Jurgen Klopp struggling to find any kind of consistency as his players drop like flies.
The loss of Virgil Van Dijk proved especially costly, taking us back to those far off days before his arrival when everyone pointed to Liverpool’s problems in central defence as their Achilles heel. On that front, it’s been back to square one, a wound they’ve been unable to heal.
Beyond that though, the absence of fans at Anfield has affected them more than any other club. The incredible, invincible run there of 68 games unbeaten in the Premier League came to a close with defeat by Burnley in January since when they have lost three more in a row to Brighton, Manchester City and Everton. You can’t defend the title with results like those and the empty Kop has clearly been a major factor.
West Ham Missing Upton Park
The big winners, and perhaps for similar reasons, have been West Ham United, very much in the shake up for a European place, perhaps even one in the Champions League.
It’s no secret that life at West Ham, ever since they left Upton Park, has been tricky. The move to the London Stadium is still one that leaves a sour taste in the mouths of a significant chunk of their support, while relations between those fans and the club’s ownership have ben fractious to say the least.
That has regularly spilled over from the stands, creating the kind of atmosphere that West Ham’s players have struggled to perform in. The move to the bigger stadium was supposed to be the stepping stone towards West Ham growing new financial muscle and from there, heading into European football. The irony is that it might have taken emptying the stadium to do it.
David Moyes’ team has certainly thrived at home this term. Last season they won six, drew four and lost nine at the London Stadium, a return of 22 points. So far this season, they have won seven, drawn three and lost just three of 13 games, already bringing in two points more than last term with six games still to play.
A reasonable run from those six and, if crowds do return at the start of next term, the West Ham fans can look forward to seeing some exotic European opposition come August.
That’s when it will get interesting. Will West Ham’s players have matured over the course of this season, will they be better equipped to cope with the pressure that comes with playing for the Hammers? Or will they still be too weak to withstand it, will they go back into their shell when the fans come through the turnstiles and return to the struggles of the past?
And what of the fans? Will they simply be so relieved to get back to the football that the moans and groans of the last few years will be gone for good? Or is the emotional attachment to the Boleyn too strong and the distrust of David Sullivan too deep for that to go away?
There’s every chance the West Ham saga will continue to be the footballing version of EastEnders for a while yet, but there might just be a happy ending on the horizon for a change. Cue the drums.