Has there been a more fascinating team in the Premier League this season than West Ham United? A new and completely different style of manager taking the helm for the final season at the Boleyn Ground meant that there was never going to be a shortage of drama for the east London outfit. But even by Slaven Bilic’s standards, this has been a chaotic start.
Their four games so far have been bookended by tremendous away performances at Arsenal and Liverpool, beating the two illustrious names by an aggregate 5-0 scoreline. And yet, on home soil the Hammers have toiled badly, losing on two occasions against modest opposition in Leicester City and Bournemouth.
So where does the truth lie when it comes to the men in claret and blue? A poor, ill-disciplined side who spring shocks away from home? Or a decent outfit still striving for balance on their own turf? Here’s a closer examination of their campaign to date.
Best Performer – Dimitri Payet:
The man from Marseille was one of the most exciting signings made by any Premier League team this summer and Payet has lived up to his reputation as a supreme playmaker.
Bilic has given Payet a freedom to go and affect matches; up to now, it’s a tactic that’s worked a treat. The midfielder has proven to be a hugely difficult player for the opposition to pick up with his elusive movement and when he does get on the ball, the Frenchman typically delivers a telling contribution, averaging 2.3 key passes per game in the Premier League.
The challenge for the 28-year-old is to keep consistency high moving forward, as his time in the south of France was rife with peaks and troughs in terms of performance levels. Bilic will be looking for him to step up and conjure some magic when opposition teams bunker in, something that’s been a big issue for the Hammers so far this term.
Most Improved Player – Cheikhou Kouyate:
There were signs in his debut campaign in the Premier League that Cheikhou Kouyate could be a major force for the Hammers, but injury problems curtailed any hopes of the rumbustious midfielder really stamping his mark on English football’s top flight. This season Senegalese international seems beset on making up for that lost time.
Kouyate is a genuine game changer for West Ham. In the wins at Arsenal and Liverpool in particular, he’s been a behemoth in the middle of the pitch, spoiling the opposition’s attacking forays before moving the ball on swiftly or surging forward and breaking lines. There are few players in the division who can expedite the transition between defense and attack quite like him.
The 25-year-old is a perfect match for the Premier League and fitness permitting, looks set to go on and have a tremendous campaign.
Mauro Zarate (Sept 14.), Joey O’Brien (Sept. 14), Enner Valencia (Oct. 31), Andy Carroll (Sept. 14)
In: Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna, Michail Antonio, Pedro Obiang, Nikica Jelavic, Stephen Hendrie, Darren Randolph, Manuel Lanzini, Victor Moses, Alex Song, Carl Jenkinson,
Out: Stewart Downing, Sean Maguire, Dan Potts, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Paul McCullum, Guy Demel, Carlton Cole, Nene, Kevin Nolan
Manager Analysis – Slaven Bilic:
Bilic couldn’t be further removed from his predecessor, playing a vibrant style of football and drafting in a host of enterprising offensive players. Regardless of the results accrued so far, the former Hammers defender has definitely rekindled something in a fanbase which was trapped in a lull under Sam Allardyce.
His team could probably do with some refinement, though. Three red cards in their opening four Premier League games is a worrying trend that must stop, while the lapses in concentration at the back need to be cut out if West Ham are to make progress. But for the time being, there has been much more that’s positive than negative from the new gaffer.
West Ham are going to be extremely difficult for teams to cope with if they’re allowed to counter-attack. The deadline purchases of Song—who will sit, nick the ball back and set attacks in motion—and Antonio—who is a rampant presence on the flanks—will enrich that style of play. It’s thrilling to watch too, which is something the supporters will revel in.
But there’s a clear lack of balance in the side when tasked with obdurate defensive opposition. Firstly, when the team are asked to defend in bursts, Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid seem to lose focus, while the attacking talent can be nullified if they aren’t afforded space to gallop into. Nevertheless, the foundations have been laid for a thrilling season in which West Ham will take plenty of scalps.
Overall Rating – 4/5
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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