West Ham travel to Vicarage Road on Sunday for the end of season fixture against Watford.
An away win would see us leapfrog the Hornets into a final 10th position. By contrast, Crystal Palace could overtake us on the presumption that they beat Bournemouth and we come away from Watford pointless.
Recent form favours a positive outcome for the Hammers: an excellent away win against Spurs was followed by a sparkling 3-0 home win over Southampton. Watford lost at home to Wolves and were comfortably beaten by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
This may be a very good time to face Watford, since they will no doubt be focusing attention on their upcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. A concerted assault against West Ham carries the risk of potential injuries before their all-important fixture at Wembley. While there are grounds for optimism, two factors suggest that appropriate caution should be employed in this fixture.
Despite their recent dearth of goals, Watford have a number of players who are quite capable of winning games on their day. Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu have each netted 11 goals each in all competitions for Watford this term, while Andre Gray is always a potentially dangerous customer.
The other worrying factor is our potential to fall asleep at the wrong time. In the Southampton game, this occurred in the first 20 minutes of the second half, after we had dominated proceeding earlier in the game.
If these two factors can be carefully addressed, we should come away with all three points. I am hoping that Manuel Pellegrini will encourage the same free-flowing, one-touch passing which has seen us playing some very attractive football in the past month or so.
Against Southampton, we saw a nice balance of youthful exuberance combined with crafty experience, which made the performance so enjoyable to watch.
Line-Up and Formation
Aside from long-term injuries to Winston Reid, Andriy Yarmolenlo and Andy Carroll, we have close to a full squad in which to put together our strongest side.
Robert Snodgrass will be available for selection after serving a one-match suspension but Aaron Cresswell is still fighting an ankle injury.
Newly crowned Hammer of the Year, Lukasz Fabianski, was in sparkling form against the Saints, and will start again in goal behind a likely back four.
In the absence of Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku has put in some strong displays and I expect him to start at left back. His ball control and dribbling skills have e been impressive, and he is always keen to push up ahead.
Ryan Fredericks has demonstrated tremendous pace at right back and was richly rewarded with his first Premier League goal last weekend. He is likely to be rewarded by selection at right back, possibly in combination with Pablo Zabaleta.
In the centre of the back four, I expect to see further consolidation between Fabian Balbuena and Issa Diop, who have been instrumental in keeping back-to-back clean sheets.
Midfield selection dilemma for Pellegrini?
For this game, Pellegrini could adopt a three or four man midfield shape, depending on whether he opts for a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation.
Assuming that Declan Rice and Felipe Anderson are both recovered from the illnesses, which made them unavailable last week, this could see Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini and Robert Snodgrass competing for the remaining midfield positions.
If, for example, we consider a four-man midfield set-up as part of the 4-4-2, the combination of two wide attackers allows two central midfielders to hold the play across the park. To date, Anderson on one wing and either Snodgrass or Michail Antonio on the other have worked very well, with Mark Noble and Declan Rice as central midfielders providing the balance.
However, Lanzini is now back from injury and looked very penetrative in the second half against Southampton. It would be very hard to choose a line-up without both South American players, who together are capable of creating so much havoc.
I suspect that Rice will start with Mark Noble but don’t be surprised to see Lanzini taking a midfield role. In a game where nothing particularly important at stake, there could be numerous variations considered in midfield.
Against Southampton, Arnautovic was employed as a single lone striker but at times he did appear isolated and well marked.
By adding Michail Antonio to the front-line, this could allow Arnautovic further places to explore against a nervous Watford defence. If necessary, Anderson can be pushed up higher to create additional problems on the left flank.
The predicted XI above shows a myriad of dashed lines and arrows. As usual, these are meant to indicate either player movement or accurate ball movement. In addition to the importance of cohesive moving triangles, we saw the penetration in attack when play is switched seen by from one side of the pitch to the other.
On the premise that we can start quickly and hold onto any initiative gained, I predict a comfortable win.