A look at the seven matches West Ham have in December shows a slate of games that could result in the Hammers sitting quite comfortably near the top half of the table at the New Year. Newcastle-Cardiff-Palace-Fulham-Watford-Southampton-Burnley are all winnable fixtures and, while the Irons will certainly drop points, this will be a good indication of how far we have come as a side with the new investment and philosophy under Manuel Pellegrini.
For a side with European ambitions, taking points off of teams who, on paper, are not as strong is a must. In addition, with four of the games away from the London Stadium, supporters will really be able to see their true mettle. Has this team gelled to the point where they can dictate a game on the road? Can they hold their defensive shape and discipline against a team that has come out on the front foot with the entire home support behind it? These are the games where the side need to prove what they are capable of.
The Newcastle fixture is interesting as it could present a preview of coming attractions: a side that invested in a big-name manager with modest investment but seem to be destined to fight relegation this season with the manager always hovering around the hot-seat. A trip to Newcastle is always a tough draw, but hopefully the side will rebound from the drubbing against Manchester City with three points.
The three matches after Newcastle are the three to watch, as how the Irons play against relegation fodder will show if we, too, are relegation fodder. Nine points against Cardiff, Palace and Fulham is not unrealistic and very rarely does a side get the opportunity to play against teams at the wrong end of the table all in a row; West Ham need to take the opportunity to put any talk of a relegation battle to rest.
To be sure: there was a stretch last season from January to the first week of February (West Brom-Spurs-Huddersfield-Bournemouth-Palace-Brighton), where the team could have put some distance between it and the bottom of the table. But rather than rise to the challenge, the team picked up only nine points over these six games which set the tone for the up and down nature that characterized the end of the season.
Will this side be different? Has this side turned a corner for the good? Or will we be treated to same old Irons, with all the potential but none of the results. December could be one that points to a rejuvenated West Ham United, or it could also show how far we still have to go.