Ending last season with a departing manager and in an underwhelming 12th place, West Ham fans would’ve been nigh on delusional to suggest next season they’d be in the top 3 come November. If a Hammers fan would’ve then suggested they’d defeat Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and reigning champions Chelsea, you’d have probably had them sectioned. Although this is the reality of West Ham’s phenomenal start to the season. Courtesy of a guitar playing Croatian boss, a French magician and lots of blowing bubbles.
Many Hammers fans were pleased to see the back of Sam Allardyce, whose brand of ugly football offered them stable results but no excitement. With the looming move to the empty Olympic Stadium, this last season at Upton Park was bound to be full of surprises. Excitement reached a new level however when Slaven Bilic was appointed. The former West Ham player is well respected in England, his Croatia side’s victory prevented England from qualifying for the European Championships in 2008. Slaven’s entertaining brand of football has yielded a strong win percentage of 55.16%.
Given an entire summer to implement his mark on the team, Bilic wasted no time in shipping out the deadwood. With a total of 9 outgoing players the West Ham team needed some strong replacements in order to improve on last season’s finish, thankfully in they came. Arsenal’s Carl Jenkinson and Juventus’ Angelo Ogbonna came in to improve a leaky defence. Victor Moses and Michail Antonio were recruited to add width. Jelavic was bought in for goals and Dimitri Payet was added to pull the strings.
Payet’s brilliance and the Hammers revitalised defence
Payet in particular has shone for his new club, rapidly becoming a fan favourite at Upton Park with 5 goals and 3 assists in his first 10 games. This form saw him nominated for September’s Barclays Premier league Player of the month award, narrowly losing out to Manchester United’s Anthony Martial. Payet’s magical style has mesmerised West Ham fans and his influence is a large reason for their improved form this year. Acting as a superb link between midfield and attack, Payet has created more chances than every Premier League player this season.
Though credit should also lie with West Ham’s much improved defensive displays. Adrian looks settled as keeper beyond a defence that kept clean sheets away to both Arsenal and Liverpool. Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson offer attacking support and defensive solidity from the full back positions. In the centre James Tomkins and Winston Reid are their strongest partnership, though James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna have both performed well when called upon. Cheikhou Kouyate has been superb whilst sitting in front of the defence, stirring rumours that the injured Alex Song may struggle to regain his place in the side.
West Ham on the road
With this being the last season at Upton Park you’d expect the Hammers to want to put on a show at home, though their away form is something to be admired. No Premier League team has a better away record than West Ham this season. This can be credited to Bilic, who has set up his team to not be scared attacking whilst on the road. Under the pessimistic Sam Allardyce, West Ham would often travel with defence at the forefront of their minds. Under Bilic they are a completely different side and their undefeated away record shows that, securing a crucial 13 points from 5 away games.
Whether West Ham can continue this form remains to be seen. In previous years teams have notably started well before falling off into mid table obscurity (see Swansea in 2011). The big test for West Ham will be whether they can continue their top four bothering form. At the moment the Hammers and Leicester City take up two European spaces that every side dreams of. After showing they can cut it against the big boys, can West Ham establish themselves as one of them?