With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at West Ham United and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
The Hammers have built up huge expectations over the last few years, especially since their qualification to the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League third qualification round and the subsequent move to London Stadium. To a great extent, they have been victims of the very expectations they established in the fanbase, continuously struggling to live up to their great finish in the 2016/17 season.
West Ham have come closer to relegation than the Europa League qualification places since then. David Moyes rescued the club twice and seems to have been entrusted this time around to build his squad based on the way he wants the team to play, compared to the last time around when he was allowed to leave for Manuel Pellegrini despite sealing West Ham’s safety after taking over from Slaven Bilic.
Prelude – The Backdrop
West Ham seemed to be recovering under Manuel Pellegrini, finishing in the top half for the first time since 2016. But, the 2019/20 season couldn’t have gotten off any worse under the Argentinean, with Manchester City handing the Hammers a 5-0 drubbing at the London Stadium.
Pellegrini got the response he wanted from his team, as West Ham went on a six-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, with 3 wins and as many draws. However, there was a blip amidst the unbeaten run as they were knocked out from the Carabao Cup, thanks to a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Oxford City.
Thus began the downward spiral, with West Ham winning just two of their subsequent 12 league fixtures, leaving them languishing at 17th on the Premier League table as Manuel Pellegrini was given his marching orders. David Moyes returned to the London Stadium with the same task at hand as before, albeit this time with a longer contract.
The bounce-back was visible, with the Hammers pocketing 7 points out of a possible 12 right after the appointment. Alas, it was temporary as West Ham found themselves in the trenches once again. The Hammers slipped back into the relegation zone after defeat at the hands of Brighton & Hove Albion and the losses to Manchester City and Liverpool ensured they prolonged their stay there.
However, it was the London derby against Chelsea that brought West Ham their mojo back. The Hammers won the home game 3-2 and never looked back after, ending the season on a positive note, with just one defeat in their last seven league games to secure a 16th placed finish for the 2019/20 season.
West Ham moved quickly to seal a permanent deal for Tomas Soucek, who was on loan from Slavia Prague last season and played a crucial role in ensuring the club’s Premier League safety.
Apart from Soucek, there have only been confirmed outgoings, with Grady Diangana completing a permanent move to West Bromwich Albion after a bright loan spell, Albian Ajeti getting signed by Celtic and Jordan Hugill coming back from loan only to seal a permanent transfer to Norwich City.
Pablo Zabaleta, Carlos Sanchez and Roberto all saw their contracts running out, with Roberto moving to Real Valladolid on a free transfer as the other two continue to look for a new home. West Ham also lost Jeremy Ngakia this summer, with the youngster not agreeing to a new deal at the club and opting to join fellow English outfit Watford instead.
Winston Reid, Josh Cullen and Sead Haksabanovic have returned from their respective loan spells and it remains to be seen how West Ham deal with their future. The Hammers would be intent on retaining their Player of the Year Declan Rice, who has been heavily linked with Chelsea.
Felipe Anderson is also on the radar of a few clubs. But, it seems West Ham are prepared to cash in on the Brazilian, with the club looking to move for Brentford winger Said Benrahma. David Moyes might also be bringing in a former Manchester United star, with Dion McGhee, who was recently released by the Red Devils, rumoured to be closing in on a free transfer to the London-based club.
There are mild rumours about West Ham being interested in James Tarkowski and lodging a bid for the Burnley star. It will be intriguing to see if the Clarets do end up selling their star defender, with the transfer highly reliant on whether Sean Dyche stays at the club.
West Ham have a rather tricky start to the 2020/21 season. While the Hammers start off with relatively promising fixture against Newcastle United, they will be up against the likes of Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool consecutively in the matchdays after.
Their second crunch run will come at the turn of the year, with a group of six fixtures where a favourable result has more probability. The tricky part would be the absolutely decked scheduling, with the Hammers facing the likes of Brighton, Southampton, Everton, West Brom, Burnley and Crystal Palace in the space of 20 days along with potential cup fixtures.
The Hammers end their season relatively comfortably as well, with no clubs from the traditional ‘Big Six’ or from last season’s top six in their last five matches of the 2020/21 Premier League season.
The former Villarreal star’s first Premier League season was a bit below-average in terms of overall form, consistency and quality in general. But, with reports suggesting that David Moyes likely to cash in on Felipe Anderson, Fornals would be more of a focal point in attack for West Ham compared to last season.
The Spaniard must have settled down by now and should look to spur on to find his usual footing and original level.
The Haller-Fornals combination should work better in the 2020/21 season if West Ham are to have a more successful campaign this time around. Both of them had their own first season blues, but with a season under their belt now, this should be their time to show the league what they are made of.
Haller was part of the golden duo at Eintracht Frankfurt that featured Luka Jovic. Both of them have struggled thus far since their respective moves abroad. But, the 2020/21 season could be the one for the Frenchman to show he can do better than 7 goals in an entire league season as the main striker of a team.
Tomas Soucek stats GW25-38 since he arrived at West Ham amongst all midfielders for that period:
👉Goals – 3 (14th)
👉xG – 2.84 (17th)
👉Goal attempts – 20 (27th)
👉Shots in the box – 16 (15th)
👉Big chances – 4 (15th)
— Josh Paxman (@JoshPaxman) August 17, 2020
With Declan Rice continuously linked with a move, Tomas Soucek will have to bear more of the burden in midfield. The former Slavia Prague star did more than enough last season and will be expected to do even more and push on towards better performances after securing a permanent deal at West Ham.
Soucek was a regular started under David Moyes and ended the season brightly. Now a vital cog in West Ham’s midfield, the 25-year-old’s form could be directly proportion to the club’s display on the pitch.
Diop seems to be learning the ropes of the defensive game well alongside Angelo Ogbonna. While Ogbonna came up slightly short in the Player of the Year award at West Ham, his influence in improving Diop’s game has been telling.
The Frenchman has admirers in the Premier League as a result of his defensive performances and it will be intriguing to see if he can maintain his level or perhaps, even improve upon it this season.
Declan Rice’s 2019/20 season by numbers. [West Ham ranked]
88 tackles won [1st]
234 successful pressures [1st]
378 defensive third pressures [1st]
377 midfield third pressures [1st]
76 interceptions [1st]
2010 touches [1st]
1316 ball carries [1st]
West Ham’s heartbeat. pic.twitter.com/iqNeipoYFa
— Dan Woffenden (@danwoff98) July 26, 2020
There is a huge probability of Rice leaving West Ham this summer. But, the versatile star has always shown he is a true professional and will continue to play for the Hammers until a transfer is confirmed. Even with Soucek signed on permanently, West Ham currently do not have a player like Rice in their team and it will be really hard to replace someone of his ilk if he does go.
The 2020/21 season can throw many curveballs. Teams have had little to no time to rest between the end of last season and the start of the pre-season. There are positives to take from West Ham’s friendlies so far in the pre-season, with Jarrod Bowen, Sebastien Haller and Tomas Soucek all looking in good touch.
West Ham’s season will largely depend on whether they can replace Declan Rice well, if he does end up leaving. David Moyes has worked his magic well earlier at Everton with a mid-sized club and could make West Ham a similar project. But, the Hammers must find a way to get away with their habit of folding and submitting to the narratives, form and stature when going up against ‘better’ teams.
The Hard Tackle predicts a rather safe season for the Hammers, with David Moyes leading them to a 12th-placed finish. The author, however, likes the look of the squad and seems to think it is perfect for a Moyes renaissance in the Premier League. The author predicts West Ham to return to the top half of the table and challenge for a spot in Europe this season.
THT Prediction: 12th
Author Prediction: 9th