FootballPremier League

Out of nowhere, West Ham have stumbled across their best team in years

October 27, 2020

TENSION had been simmering over the summer, so West Ham United co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan, and vice-chair Karen Brady, couldn’t have been too surprised when they were met with protests outside the London Stadium ahead of the team’s opening Premier League fixture of the 2020/21 season.

Not one summer signing had been made. Just days beforehand, club captain Mark Noble had tweeted his disgruntlement at the sale of young talent Grady Diangana to West Brom. West Ham seemed destined to endure another difficult season as a disenfranchised fanbase made their anger unavoidable to the club’s decision-makers.

Now, the Hammers are on a three-game unbeaten run which has seen them beat Leicester City and claim draws against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Almost out of nowhere and almost entirely by accident, West Ham have stumbled upon their best team in years. This season might not be so bad after all.

Only Harry Kane (12) has scored more Premier League goals than Michail Antonio (11) since the league’s restart in June. He has been key to West Ham’s good form with his spectacular overhead kick in Saturday’s draw against Manchester City a genuine highlight reel moment. Recently converted from a winger into a true centre forward, Antonio has become the perfect figure to lead the Hammers’ attacking line.

“He’s become really important to the team here,” David Moyes said. “A couple of years ago we had Marko Arnautovic – he was incredibly important to the team. Michy Antonio is doing the same. Most football club’s need a really good number nine and we’ve got one at the moment.”

Moyes himself must take a lot of credit for Antonio’s development and for the moulding of an effective team unit as a whole. There has been an element of good fortune to the way this group of players have ended up at the London Stadium, with West Ham lacking any sort of coherent recruitment strategy and over-arching sporting ideology, but Moyes has recognised what has landed in front of him and made the most of it.

With Jarrod Bowen on one side and Pablo Fornals on the other, the Hammers have a balanced attacking structure anchored by the impressive Declan Rice and the awkward Tomas Soucek who has been called the new Marouane Fellaini by none other than Jose Mourinho. He would know a new Fellaini if he saw one.

At right wing back, Vladimir Coufal is proving himself as one of the bargains of the season in the Premier League while the back three shape implemented by Moyes is doing a good job of masking the defensive vulnerabilities that have dogged West Ham for a number of season. This is peak Moyes pragmatism. 

The re-hiring of the Scot almost a year ago enthused few, but Moyes has built a team reminiscent of his old Everton side. West Ham are fighting hard for their manager this season, staying in games until the final minute. Their reliance on set pieces, crosses into the box and physicality in opposition duels might not make the Hammers especially fashionable or even good to watch, but it has made them extremely effective.

Not since the 2015/16 season, when Dimitri Payet fired Slaven Bilic’s side to a seventh place finish in the Premier League, have West Ham boasted such a strong and balanced team. Of course, Moyes’ side is very different to Bilic’s, with the Scot favouring the conservative over the expansive, but his methods and ideas are being absorbed by his players. 

It’s important to note West Ham’s strong start to the season hasn’t dispelled the supporter disgruntlement that has built over the last few years, since the club’s controversial move to the London Stadium. It’ll take more than a few positive results for the Hammers’ fanbase to be at ease with their club’s current hierarchy, but at least watching their team isn’t adding to the pain right now.