City and Moyes put records on the line
Manchester City v West Ham, Sky Sports, 4.0
December was the month that found Manchester City out last year and, though history does not look like repeating itself with Pep Guardiola's side on the verge of equalling a Premier League record for consecutive wins within a season, the runaway league leaders need to be wary of a seven-game month that includes a derby.
Twelve months ago it was Chelsea, on their own record-equalling 13-match winning run, who came to the Etihad and inflicted the first home defeat of the season with a 3-1 win. City were still shell-shocked a week later when they turned up at Leicester in some disarray and were taught lessons in a 4-2 defeat that Guardiola remembers vividly to this day.
To get the statistical details out of the way first, City have won every game in the Premier League since Ronald Koeman's Everton held them to a draw at the Etihad in August. Their sequence stands at 12, and should they beat West Ham at home this afternoon they will advance to 13 and share the record jointly held by Arsenal (from 2001-'02) and Chelsea (last season).
The actual record for consecutive Premier League wins stands at 14 but it was set over two seasons, by Arsenal between February and August 2002. Should City beat West Ham they can look at setting a fresh record all of their own, though the league game that follows is against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
We can expect to hear a lot from Guardiola about the unimportance of such trivialities as records between now and then, as well as a certain amount of exasperation on the subject of going through the season unbeaten, for what every manager knows is that the next game is always the one that might trip you up. Even if the next game is West Ham.
If anyone from Guardiola's scouting team was watching them in action at Goodison in midweek there was precious little on show to cause any undue concern, though the one thing that might knock City off track is looking too far ahead and taking results against struggling sides for granted.
With due respect to Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, who will be returning to Manchester in more straitened circumstances than was perhaps envisaged, West Ham are struggling at the moment and David Moyes does not yet seem to have a handle on how to turn things around. They were missing Andy Carroll at Everton, yet to start using that as an excuse is possibly to admit that Moyes does not have a great deal of attacking options open to him. Hart and Zabaleta left to join Slaven Bilic and most people - Marko Arnautovic, say - probably imagined a fairly comfortable mid-table existence based on the ability to occasionally summon the West Ham spirit and carry out bandit raids on supposedly superior sides.
In fact this happened only once, with the memorable comeback against Tottenham at Wembley in the Carabao Cup, and because league points are a much harder currency than cup kudos Bilic was soon gone, and with him much of what was left of the optimism surrounding the club.
Hiring Moyes on a six-month contract hardly screams optimism, does it? It simply means the manager will be easy to remove if there is no sign of climbing out of trouble, and suggests West Ham will soon be in the market for a new manager again whether or not Moyes can make a difference to results.
The more pessimistic West Ham fans are already comparing the situation to Sunderland and complaining that Moyes might have to be removed before the end of the season, which is perhaps a little harsh after three matches though fair in the sense that any detectable improvement is hard to identify.
Neither does there seem much possibility of immediate respite. After Manchester City, Moyes must prepare his players for league encounters with Chelsea and Arsenal. A trip to Stoke a week on Saturday is the first game West Ham might mark down as winnable; in fact, given that Mark Hughes's side are lining up among the relegation candidates this season, there might be trouble for Moyes if some sort of corner has not been turned by that stage.
Unless he simply wants to collect his contract money and fade away from front-line management, now is the time for Moyes to prove people wrong by showing his credentials as a firefighter. To do that you need to win games that you are not supposed to win, to pick up points against the big clubs. Moyes was never particularly good at that during his time at Everton, even though he more than stabilised the club over the course of 11 years, and his last experience of attempting to keep a side up ended in relegation.
If taking points from West Ham's next three matches seems a tall order, Moyes could take some encouragement from what happened at Crystal Palace under Sam Allardyce last season. Allardyce has just earned a chance at a record seventh Premier League club on the strength of his apparent immunity to relegation, even if Everton possibly acted hastily in assuming the drop was looming.
Everyone knows Allardyce kept the Eagles up by virtue of going to Chelsea and Liverpool and winning, not to mention beating Arsenal 3-0 at home, but those results were all in April. In January, the month after he joined, Palace lost at home to Swansea and Everton and were drubbed at West Ham. As late as February Palace were hammered 4-0 at home by Sunderland .
Moyes must remember that; it is probably the last time he smiled. Two successive relegations would be nothing to smile about - not many managerial careers would survive it - yet there is still time and plenty of matches. Moyes won't have to play Manchester City every week, but he will have to start somewhere.
Sunday Indo Sport