From the burning of shirts bearing “Payet 27” to 5-0 drubbings, West Ham United have had many problems this season. Indeed March and early April saw them lose five consecutive games in the Premier League, as the Hammers briefly flirted with relegation. Although they look safe now, there are certainly reasons why manager Slaven Bilic and his players have underwhelmed this season.
Back to Reality: A Season Full of Problems for West Ham United
West Ham have had a season full of problems; some through their own doing, but others through bad luck. Wherever they finish, Bilic looks almost certain to leave this summer as West Ham once again look to over-achieve, just as they did last season.
The first problem arose from last season’s doings. The Hammers finished above Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton. Remarkably it was also the first time since 1986 that West Ham finished a season in the top division with a positive goal difference. UEFA Europa League qualification seemed a just reward for their efforts.
Traditionally, and with all due respect, West Ham are not a team of European pedigree – at least certainly not in recent years. In their 20 completed seasons in the Premier League, they have finished on average in 14th.
Last season was an anomaly that has only caused problems this season; over-achieving has caused expectations to rise. West Ham currently sit in 13th, but some fans would go so far as to label this season a disaster.
People see pre-season as a time for managers to test formations, try out new signings in certain positions and allow fans to get a glimpse of what is to come. However it does hold importance, even if it is just psychological. West Ham came back from tours in America and Austria with just one win, two losses and two draws against lesser opposition, before they lost at home to Juventus.
Their season-defining Europa League campaign started on July 28 – before they had even played their last friendly. This caused problems as their pre-season form was ingrained in the front of the players’ minds; last season’s winning mentality was lost. So because of a poor run of friendly results, all continuity was lost, and West Ham failed to win their play-off for a place in the Europa League group stages. Perhaps with a better pre-season, West Ham may still have been fighting for European glory alongside Manchester United.
Anybody who watched West Ham play at Upton Park last season will admit that the place had a special atmosphere to it. The fans knew that each time they blared out “I’m forever blowing bubbles”, it was one step closer to a move away from their beloved home. Despite some pundits overlooking the relocation, it has only been a hindrance for the Hammers this season.
With fan trouble, empty white seats glaring out at the TV cameras, and an isolated and very large pitch, the London Stadium shares no similarities with Upton Park. The castle has been removed from West Ham’s badge this season, and it now seems justified. Their new ground has proved unsettling and unsatisfactory for supporters, truly anything but a fortress.
The Dimitri Payet saga has without doubt marred West Ham’s season, but it is important to consider it in conjunction with all the other factors explored as well. Payet was instrumental in West Ham’s success last season, and in doing so he won a place in the PFA Team of the Season.
However, he returned this season after a disappointing Euros and eventually vented his unhappiness. He wanted to leave. When your marquee player wants out, the club, the fans and the manager will feel betrayed.
Half-way through a season these feelings had to be avoided. A crisis of this scale that dominates the media adds extra focus onto the club, especially if they are under-performing. West Ham paid the price for Payet’s rebellion (despite eventually receiving £30 million from Marseilles), as their talisman, who represented all the recent success of the club, left on an angry note.
Last season, Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll scored a combined 21 goals for West Ham. This season, their top scorer so far is Michail Antonio. The Hammers need their strikers to be at the top of this list. Yes, Carroll has 7 goals so far this season, but at no stage has the back of the net been bulging with ease for him. Injuries have certainly not helped in this department, especially regarding Carroll. Bilic would have hoped for a forward to score more goals this season.
Bringing in Andre Ayew and Robert Snodgrass in search of more goals has also failed. Ayew has so far struggled, scoring infrequent tap-ins, whilst Snodgrass has failed to make an impact.
Simone Zaza only ever showed glimpses of what he was capable of, and never scored. Bilic has since had to recognise his error in failing to make the Italian settle.
New signings have already been touched upon when highlighting West Ham’s problems, and centre-back Jose Fonte is no different. Even as a newly-crowned champion of Europe with Portugal, paying an initial fee of £8 million for a 33 year-old is unusual. It had the feel of a “panic buy” on Bilic’s part, looking for a quick fix for defensive frailties rather than solving any long-term problems. It had the feel of a move by a manger who knew his job was on the line.
West Ham United have had a disappointing season, though only by the standards that their fans, manager and board have set. Bilic has for months now been widely tipped to leave the London Stadium at the end of the season. Perhaps a fresh pair of hands can over-achieve and win West Ham United a place in the Europa League group stages that has proved so elusive for the Croatian.