Last season, as established Premier League clubs Newcastle United and Aston Villa were facing relegation, West Ham United were enjoying their most successful season in the top division in its current format.
A record 62 points, scoring 65 goals along the way, gave the club a seventh-placed finish and a place in the Europa League. The soon-to-be vacant Boleyn Ground was brimming with confidence as the Hammers signed off at home last season 3-2 win over Manchester United, before preparing to move in to the 60,000-seater London Olympic Stadium.
“Michail Antonio has been the only shining light in a desperately poor start to the season.”
Fast-forward five months and you find a club in complete turmoil. One win from seven games has left West Ham in the relegation zone having already conceded seventeen goals, the most in the league.
An uncharacteristically leaky defence has condemned them to home defeats against Watford and Southampton, as well as an embarrassing 4-2 defeat at the hands of Tony Pulis’s West Brom side. The form of young winger Michail Antonio has been the only shining light in a desperately poor start to the season.
“Head Coach Slaven Bilic has stated that the squad cannot rely on last season’s exploits to deflect criticism.”
Could it be that the football gods are bringing back some normality after last season’s craziness? Champions Leicester sit in lowly 12th, Manchester City are back on top of the league and Sunderland are sat in an all-too-familiar 20th position, giving the league a more ‘conventional’ look. Or could it be new-stadium syndrome?
Arsenal struggled to adapt to life at the Emirates in 2006, drawing four of their first seven games at their new home, and there is no doubt that leaping from a 34,000 strong home crowd to almost 57,000 could be a daunting task for any team.
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) October 10, 2016
A long-term injury to record signing Andre Ayew has rubbed salt into the wounds, with club captain Mark Noble lamenting that ‘it could not get any worse’. Head Coach Slaven Bilic has stated that the squad cannot rely on last season’s exploits to deflect criticism and must improve quickly, despite receiving the backing of owners David Sullivan and David Gold in their open letter to fans.
“The international break has given the coaching staff some time to analyse what has gone wrong before fixtures against Crystal Palace and Sunderland.”
There seems to be no quick fix for Bilic and his squad. An almost identical team to last season’s heroes is producing abject displays, and showing few signs of improvement, despite being roared on by an amazingly vocal London Stadium crowd.
The international break has given the coaching staff some time to analyse what has gone wrong before fixtures against Crystal Palace and Sunderland. These provide an opportunity to pick up some much needed points and confidence before an unenviable run of fixtures featuring high-flying Everton, Spurs, Man United, Liverpool and London rivals Arsenal.
It would seem that if the squad cannot turn things around in the next two games, they will have to prepare for a potentially tough and testing relegation battle, and Mr. Bilic may have to prepare for a Christmas without a busy work schedule.
Words by Matthew Smith
Image courtesy of John Seb Barber via flickr.com
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