West Ham United

West Ham United Season So Far – Temporary Blip or Downward Spiral

On 20th June 2016, David Sullivan proclaimed that West Ham United “start the campaign with the aim of winning the Premier League.” Three months later and the goal he admitted was unlikely to happen, has changed: Premier League survival is the Hammers top priority.

Five defeats in their six league matches so far, with sixteen goals conceded, is far from the dream start envisaged as they arrived at their new home, London’s Olympic Stadium. This was the beginning of a new era, the first step on the path to making them “the biggest club in England.”

If it is, they have lost their footing. Manager Slaven Bilic can hardly claim their fixture list was difficult; only Chelsea and Manchester City can claim to have genuine top six pretensions. The remainder? West Ham United will consider them games they should have won.

After Sunday’s debacle against Southampton, Captain Mark Noble offered an honest assessment of the game. “I thought we started all right and then ‘bang’ we conceded a goal,” he said, before adding, “If I’m honest it could have been six in the end. On the bright side, I don’t think it can get any worse”. Gallows humour perhaps but the majority of the 58,000 crowd found the defeat no laughing matter.

Their slump to the relegation places is not entirely surprising. The club endured the summer rather than enjoyed it. Transfer targets came and went; if a striker could walk, the Hammers were after him.

Michy Batshuayi was on the cusp of joining until first Crystal Palace outbid West Ham United and then he signed for Chelsea; financial power and the prospect of Champions League football was more appealing than anything on offer from the Olympic Stadium.

They couldn’t even off Europa League football. In a warning of what was to follow, the Hammers exited in the final qualifying round to Romanian team, Astra Giurgiu. Losing at home in the second leg summed up what had been a disjointed campaign from the outset.

Desperately short of goals, the Hammers swooped for Andre Ayew. The club’s record signing from Swansea City arrived in time for the opening weekend defeat at Chelsea. He lasted thirty minutes before succumbing to a thigh injury which will keep him out of the side until November.

With just over a week to the transfer window closing, West Ham United were scrambling around looking for replacements. Andy Carroll was ruled out through injury as well but in the end, they landed Simone Zaza close to deadline day. The Italian international, who gained notoriety this summer with his Euro 2016 penalty routine, signed on loan until the end of the season.

He has never been a prolific goalscorer, averaging a goal every three games or so in Serie A. It’s not a record which he seems likely to improve upon in the Premier League, where he currently has more yellow cards than goals.

Injuries have disrupted but so too did the late return of Dimitri Payet from international duty. The mercurial midfielder gave the club a much-needed boost in the summer when he quashed speculation about his future. He was staying at West Ham and spurning moves to Spain. How he may regret that decision.

He was absent for the opening three fixtures and like many of his peers who also played at Euro 2016, he has come back to the team off the pace. Nowhere have we yet seen the midfield maestro who pulled the strings last season. Will his return to form be too late for Bilic and West Ham?

Bilic, an uncompromising defender in his playing days, cuts a frustrated figure on the touchline. His defence is ragged and unprotected by the midfield. They have become increasingly naïve in their play and in a league where mistakes are punished, West Ham are suffering more than most.

Whereas last season they were bright, crisp in the tackle, this year’s model is far slower; ponderous even. With new full backs coming into the side, the defence needs time to bed in but time is a precious commodity and one which is against them.

The key to this is the injury to Aaron Cresswell. The left back was a pivotal member of the back four last year but also an impressive attacker. This extra dimension allowed Payet and Lanzini more freedom. This season, they aren’t able to find the same space with full backs slower to support.

Crucially, the Hammers underestimated the negative impact of moving to the Olympic Stadium. Until the players are settled, every game is like an away fixture for them. The surroundings are unfamiliar, and the XI has yet to get its bearings on the new pitch. Replicating the dimensions on training pitches only helps so much.

Irritations and distractions roll on from that. Police radios don’t work in the stadium which has led to the Metropolitan Police Force withdrawing their officers from the stands. Ineffective stewarding saw scenes of violent disorder against Watford as the Hammers faithful vented their frustration over the continued poor performances.

The Olympic Stadium is a new home but far from a happy one.

It’s the perfect storm. Resources are stretched at a time when they were supposedly at their most plentiful, and it’s left the Hammers perilously placed today. Uncomfortable at present, another month in the relegation zone will make the situation of serious concern.

Problematically, there is no magic wand for Bilic to wave. He’s admitted that he has made mistakes and the players haven’t been shy of taking their share of the blame either. The question to answer is whether they have learned the lessons.

About the Author Moha

Hardcore fun of the beautiful game. Played soccer for different clubs in my country before hanging up my boots. Now writer for My Soccer HQ

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