West Ham

Will West Ham qualify for the Champions League?

Toby Cudworth
May 6, 2021, 6:45 PM GMT+1
West Ham kept the dream alive by beating Burnley
West Ham kept the dream alive by beating Burnley / Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Back in 2005, England's cricketers took on Australia in The Ashes.

There was a wave optimism ahead of the series, but that wasn't really anything new despite England's god awful record against the old enemy. In fact, it had been a good 18 years since that symbolic little urn had belonged to the Three Lions, with the subsequent couple of decades providing an unhealthy amount of heartache and toil.

But something felt different that summer.

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England had renewed belief that they could take down an Australian side at the peak of their powers, largely because of the emergence of Kevin Pietersen and the increasingly consistent brilliance of all-rounder Andrew Flintoff.

Despite that, Michael Vaughan's charges started off the series slowly, healthily losing the first test. But they got back into contest after eeking out victory in the greatest test match ever played, and that win at Edgbaston - as it transpired - was the catalyst for one of the greatest sporting summers in England's history, played out in front of incredible support up and down the country.

England won the five-match series 2-1, Australia were knocked off their perch, and the balance of power shifted in a rivalry that had been dominated by green and gold for far too long.

So, you're most definitely thinking, how does that relate to West Ham, how does that relate to the Champions League and why have you just read 200 odd words about cricket?

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Well, there are parallels to be drawn from that underdog story of 16 years ago to West Ham's quest for season Champions League qualification. Loose ones, but parallels nonetheless.

England could win The Ashes back in '05, while West Ham could qualify for the Champions League in any given season.

Did England believe they could win The Ashes? Yes, to an extent, but there was also a whole load of realism applied based on the aforementioned unfavourable history. Did West Ham believe they could qualify for the Champions League at the start of the season? Okay, the answer to that is most probably no, but there's bound to be an optimistic supporter or two out there who did consider it (despite unfavourable history).

England cricket fans had been subjected to an unhealthy amount of heartache and toil over the years, while West Ham fans are continually subjected to an unhealthy amount of heartache and toil. There was a very different feeling to that English summer, while there has been a very different feel to this coronavirus pandemic affected Premier League season.

The tenuous comparisons could continue but you've probably got the idea by now. Change was in the offing back in 2005, and change is most certainly in the offing in 2021.

David Moyes
David Moyes is hoping to turn West Ham's dreams into reality / Pool/Getty Images

Of course, it's not quite that simple and, actually, qualifying for the Champions League is no longer in West Ham's hands. They lay fifth in the Premier League as it stands, trailing Chelsea and Leicester, but the good news is that both of those sides have pretty iffy run-ins (in terms of perceived fixture difficulty) and they still have to play each other. Somebody has to drop points, it's inevitable.

Add in that Chelsea are through to the Champions League final and you get a lovely, from a West Ham perspective, distraction that could force Thomas Tuchel to rotate his side and disrupt the playing rhythm harmony at Stamford Bridge. Oh, and the Blues are also in the FA Cup final on Saturday, May 15 against *checks notes* LEICESTER!

Let's not forget Liverpool, either, who - for the sake of argument - are the footballing equivalent of Australia. The top dogs who are falling from grace but are still desperately looking to cling on to their seat at the top table.

Virgil van Dijk is Glenn McGrath after he trod on a cricket ball, while Mohamed Salah single handedly keeping the Reds going with goal after goal is reminiscent of Shane Warne propping up a bowling attack that got occasional support in the wickets column from Brett Lee (basically, Firmino and Mane in a goal sense).

Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk's prolonged absence has ruined Liverpool's season / LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/Getty Images

All fun aside, West Ham can only focus on what they can control. The Hammers have four games to go before the end of the season, and, frankly, they are all winnable games. Everton, Brighton, West Brom and Southampton. Nothing to be scared of there, just four teams who should - if they can maintain the levels they've shown for the past seven months - be beatable.

The form guide would suggest that West Ham have already had their Trent Bridge-style heart in mouth blip by losing to Newcastle and Chelsea in successive weeks, and the returning Michail Antonio has provided his very own Gary Pratt moment - unexpectedly starting at Turf Moor to score twice and fire West Ham to a 2-1 win over Burnley.

It's now full steam ahead to the end of the season. West Ham have nothing to lose and everything to gain - like England did in the fifth and final test match at The Oval - so they may as well just go for it.

Play with the intensity that they have all season, play with the fearlessness that David Moyes - who we'll now christen Duncan Fletcher - has instilled in them and play with the confidence that more than adequately competing at the top level has brought.

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Who knows, they may - alongside Leicester - end the domination of the perceived 'big six', ushering in a new era at West Ham that many could only have dreamed of before a ball was kicked (bowled). They could even have Declan Rice back in the side to do it, and it would be fitting for him to return and put in a Pietersen 158 Oval-style performance to seal the deal.

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