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Why hasn't it clicked for West Ham this season?

Pellegrini

We’re now at the business end of the Premier League campaign and the table is firmly starting to take shape. Liverpool have more or less won their first title in 30 years, despite the best efforts of Coronavirus, while there are six teams still in realistic contention for relegation at the bottom. 

Norwich are currently six points adrift at the foot of the table and look as though they will be returning to the Championship come May, but only three points separate 19th-placed Aston Villa with 15th-placed Brighton, signifying just how tight things are at the wrong end of the table. 

Bournemouth (18th), Watford (17th) and West Ham (16th) are all at huge risk of relegation to the second-tier as things stand. For the latter, it is somewhat of a more bizarre prospect considering the amount of investment they have made this season. 

Many believed that West Ham would be pushing for a top-half finish this term - potentially even for a Europa League spot - and it’s easy to understand why. On paper, the Hammers have arguably the most talented squad out of the teams currently occupying the Premier League’s bottom-half.

The east London outfit spent over £70m on new signings last summer, with the arrivals of Sebastian Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt (£36m) and Pablo Fornals from Villarreal (£25m) bringing a new wave of optimism to E20. 

Last season yielded a fairly impressive 10th-place finish for the Irons under Manuel Pellegrini, and there was a feeling that with these reinforcements, this season the club would really push on and improve on last season’s achievements.

Indeed, the club find themselves in a precarious position 29 games into the 2019-20 campaign and sit 16th in the Premier League, above the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

So, with all of the investment made in recent times - including the £20m purchase of Jarod Bowen from Hull in January - what exactly is going wrong for West Ham?

Moyes’ return not going as planned

After dismissing Manuel Pellegrini back in December, the club turned to a familiar face when they hired David Moyes as the Chilean’s replacement. The Scot had previously taken charge of first-team duties back in 2017 with the club facing relegation and managed to steer them clear of the drop, but departed east London upon the expiry of his six-month deal in May 2018. 

Viewed as a steady pair of hands due to his exploits the first time around, there was a belief that Moyes would again steady the ship at the London Stadium and traject the Hammers to safety in the Premier League. 

After a promising start, which saw the 56-year-old win his opening two games, West Ham have since won just one match in all competitions - a 3-1 victory over Southampton at the end of February - and also found themselves dumped out of the FA Cup thanks to a 1-0 defeat to Championship side West Brom last month.

With one league win in nine, it’s no surprise that West Ham are where they are in the Premier League at the moment - at real risk of relegation. Moyes was shiny and new when he first took over three years ago, his tactics untried and untested. This time around, though, those tactics look stale and the players don’t appear to be buying into his philosophy. 

Much of this is largely down to Moyes’ questionable decision making, however. For instance, during the 3-3 draw against Brighton in February, his team led the Seagulls 3-1 heading into the final 15 minutes of the game, but ultimately ended up losing out on two points thanks to some shambolic defending and the fact that he replaced a high-pressing striker (Michail Antonio) with a defender (Arthur Masuaku). 

Of course this is largely down to the players not doing their job properly and you can argue that a lot of it was out of the manager’s hands, but it has been the story of the Scotman’s second reign at the London Stadium - defensively, they are completely at sea.

David Moyes' Second Coming isn't going as planned
David Moyes' Second Coming isn't going as planned

Defensively poor and significantly unprepared

The Hammers have conceded 18 league goals in 2020, keeping just one clean sheet in the process. Only three top-flight sides have conceded more goals than the east Londoners this term - Southampton (52 goals), Norwich (52 goals) and Aston Villa (56 goals). 

Much of this has been down to the goalkeeping crisis, which saw first choice shot-stopper Lucasz Fabianski miss 14 games with a hip injury between 28 September and 1 January. While injuries of this nature cannot be helped, the fact that the club did not have an ample replacement for the Pole is another thing which left supporters frustrated. 

Reserve goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez, 34, endured a nightmare spell between the sticks in Fabianski’s absence, conceding 21 goals in just ten appearances (all competitions), while third choice keeper David Martin (also 34 and unproven at Premier League level) let in six goals in his five appearances. 

It is unfair to lay blame on just the goalkeepers in this situation, though it must be said that had West Ham had a more accomplished back-up in reserve, they would have been much better prepared to cope with Fabianski’s absence.     

There’s no place like home 

One of the main issues surrounding West Ham at the moment is the fact that their home ground still does not feel like, well, home, despite the club being almost four years into their tenure at the London Stadium. The romanticised move in summer 2016 was promised to elevate the club to the next level, with the increased capacity supposed to encourage a greater attendance at home games. 

However, the problem is that the stadium was purpose-built for the Olympics and that is exactly what it is - an Olympic arena which is a million miles away from possessing the same allure as a traditional football stadium; like Upton Park, for example. 

Fans claim that the stadium feels soulless and that each home tie feels like an away one, with the distance between the pitch and the stands considerably far away - perfectly summing up the disconnection between supporters and players.

The stadium is of course not to blame for the West Ham’s shortfallings, but it is a huge aspect which has contributed to the fans’ understandable aggrievement towards what is going on at their beloved club. Alongside everything else, the whole situation in east London is one of grave concern, with few knowing exactly when things are going to change.

Can they turn it around?

The obvious worst case scenario is that West Ham get relegated to the Championship for only the second time in their history. At the minute it looks a distinct possibility, though there have been signs of promise in recent weeks. Against Arsenal last weekend they played genuinely well and looked as if they may have nicked something, undone by a late goal from Alexandre Lacazette. 

The weekend before, David Moyes’ side obtained their first league victory since New Year’s Day, playing Southampton off the pitch in a 3-1 victory on home soil. Prior to that, they narrowly missed out on getting something away at Liverpool, taking the lead in the second-half at Anfield before a late Sadio Mane goal swung the tie in the hosts’ favour. 

It’s clear that things are improving at the London Stadium, albeit at an extremely slow pace. And, with a fairly favourable run-in of fixtures left until the season is complete - including games against Newcastle, Burnley, Norwich, Watford and Aston Villa - there is every chance that West Ham will pull themselves clear of the drop and secure top-flight football for at least another season. 

That will only be achievable if they continue to show the same spirit as they have done in the previous three weeks, though.

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