While the big boys fight it out at the Premier League summit, it looks like there is an interesting battle developing for the Europa League places lower down. Playing in Europe is still a very real aspiration for many of the established Premier League teams, as well as a few of the more recently promoted teams in the last few seasons. Some of these teams have now spent a fair few seasons in England’s top league and are now looking to build on their current success.
West Ham and Swansea are two such teams, which seem to no longer be content with just achieving Premier League survival, but are now sizing up a possible cup run in Europe. This surprise has left bookies scrambling to realign their odds with the clubs’ current form. Tatts’ odds have been fluctuating all season as they try to reflect the probability of European football for both these clubs.
Swansea gained promotion to the Premier League through their Championship division play-off final success against Reading in 2011. The last three seasons have seen the Swans finish comfortably in a mid-table position and they may well feel it is now time that they secured a higher placed finish. A Europa league place would definitely be hailed as a huge step forward in the club’s development and a significant feather in Gary Monk’s cap.
While Swansea were winning promotion to the top flight, West Ham were moving in the opposite direction down to the Championship after being relegated in last position in 2011. However, their drop into the second tier of English football only lasted for one season as they bounced straight back into the Premier League under Sam Allerdyce’s stewardship. West Ham won the Championship play-off final the following year, taking Swansea’s footpath back into the top division.
Since their promotion back to the big time, both Swansea and West Ham have been threatening to mount an attack on the Europa League places in the top half of the table. Competition for the European places continues to be fierce amongst the so called lesser teams in the Premier League. These teams only need to look at teams such as Fulham for Europa League inspiration. Although Fulham now play their football in the Championship it is only a few seasons ago when they were competing in the 2010 Europa League final. It was only Diego Forlan’s winner deep into extra time which denied Fulham the silverware and meant the cup went to Atletico Madrid.
So perhaps the Hammers or the Swans can repeat Fulham’s final feat in the coming years as they battle hard for the opportunity to compete in Europe. The two teams met for the first time this season at the Boleyn Ground where West Ham finished on top and secured a vital 3 points. However, it was a different story in the return fixture at the Liberty Stadium a few weeks later. A positive result for either side in this game could have resulted in another big step towards a possible European berth at the end of the season. As it turned out the teams couldn’t be separated and the 1-1 score line meant the honours were evenly shared.
Swansea face a tough second half of January with games against two of the top three teams in the league. A home tie against Chelsea is followed by an away trip to Southampton. Perhaps this difficult run may allow West Ham to seize the initiative in their European duel with the Swans. The Hammers complete the latter half of January with a winnable home game against relegation contenders Hull followed by an exciting trip to Liverpool. West Ham will probably be in a confident mood as they look down the table below to find a struggling Liverpool side which they will be hoping is short of confidence.