Traditionally, this is the time of year that Sam Allardyce’s West Ham teams would see themselves edging towards the 40-point mark and begin to pack their bags for the summer, content that their yearly target had been met so early.
With Slaven Bilic though, one gets the impression that The Irons have slightly more ambition than ‘don’t get relegated.’ However, whether this ambition extends beyond a top-six league finish and into domestic cup competitions is another matter.
Indeed, the result of their home tie against Wolverhampton Wanders will probably hinge on how much West Ham actually want to focus on the FA Cup this season.
The Croatian manager has promised to field a strong starting 11 on Saturday, but the level of said team’s motivation will probably be a decisive factor.
While Wolves are in good form, winning and keeping clean sheets in each of their last three games, they don’t really fall into either the ‘talented underachievers’ or ‘well-drilled unit’ categories from where FA Cup giant-killers often emerge.
Also, Dimitri Payet is now back from injury, so 70-odd minutes of playing time against weaker opponents might be a good jump-starter for both his form and fitness following two months on the side-lines.
West Ham’s relatively positive form following further injuries to Manuel Lanzini, Diafra Sakho and Victor Moses, all three of whom are still unavailable, is probably testament to their squad’s depth.
So far, Bilic has done a pretty impressive job of essentially turning West Ham into Martin O’Neill’s 2007-2010 Aston Villa; a good counter-attacking unit who take points away at stronger sides, but struggle to break down smaller ones.
The fact that The Hammers have one just once against the Premier League’s bottom six this season may be a source of encouragement for Kenny Jackett, who all but admitted on Thursday that he’d like a cup run this year, on account of his team being in very little danger of either dropping into the relegation places or threatening the play-off ones.
In this respect, maybe an away win would serve best for both sides, allowing West Ham to focus on their league campaign, and distracting Wolves from theirs.
West Ham probable XI: Adrian; Ogbonna, Tomkins, Collins, Cresswell; Song, Kouyate, Noble, Antonio, Payet; Carroll;