Hammer Fall: West Ham United on an endless downward spiral

West Ham United were a force to reckon with last season. The Hammers captured our attention with some scintillating football, defeating the strongest of teams and finishing at 7th place with 62 points – a record number of points for the club in the Premier League. The Payet-Antonio-Noble triumvirate was a lethal combination and manager Slaven Bilic was making a statement. Their last season at Upton Park went very well indeed.



This season, the Hammers are just a shadow of last year's side. Languishing at 15th place in the league table and just 5 points from the drop zone, fears of relegation are looming in some minds. Even if they just avoid it, there is no doubt that this season has been a poor one for the London club so far. They are clearly struggling to replicate the form they showed last season. FYS explores some factors which could have led to their downfall.



Poor Recruitment

West Ham earned a great deal of profit and the freedom to spend it on good signings after last season’s heroics. But they never came. Jonathon Calleri and Gokhan Tore have hardly played. Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass have failed to make an impact. While Simone Zaza has probably been one of the worst signings this season. And they were supposed to ease Payet’s burden and replace him in the near future. Oops.  



Even if they did buy some big names, they have failed to utilize them very well. Where are Robert Snodgrass and Alvaro Arbeloa? Sofiane Feghouli has been decent, but nowhere near the bar set by most players in the West Ham team last season. They did a good job signing Jose Fonte from Southampton in January, who has made them sturdier in defence since then. But still, that’s just resulted to them going 2 or 3 places higher, still a long way from a European spot they were competing for until last season. The Hammers can certainly do a better job at the player recruitment field.


The Payet Problem

Dmitri Payet was phenomenal for West Ham United. He made his way to the PFA Player of the Year nominations, got a slot in the PFA Team of the Year and even won West Ham’s Player of the Year award. Everyone loved watching him play, described by many as “sublime” and “spectacular”. His dribbling skills, vision and his free kicks sent chills down any opposition player’s spine. At times, it was Dmitri Payet who single-handedly saved West Ham from losing with continuous heroic performances, creating 116 chances along the way. The club-player relation was fantastic, which led him to sign a five-and-a-half year contract for the Hammers.




Things went wrong too quickly.  A year later, he isn't playing for West Ham anymore. With his performances fading, Slaven Bilic stated in December that the Frenchman no longer wanted to play for the club. This led to West Ham fans being heartbroken, with many of them going against him. No matter how shocking this saga was, he was their best player, and totally irreplaceable, proof being West Ham’s performances this season. Their heavy dependence on Payet backfired, as he left them for dead, and they have no to look upto now. West Ham can only hope to grind out wins and make some intelligent signings come summer.



Injury Problems

Andre Ayew and Diafra Sakho have had some major injuries this season, and Andy Carroll is like ice-cream kept in the burning heat, who melts and is sprawled over as soon he is out in the open. Even Dmitri Payet was injured at the beginning of the season. Aaron Cresswell has been a heavier loss for West Ham though. A rigid defender, who even created the most chances second to Payet last season, he is definitely missed.



Poor Defence

The West Ham backline has clearly been woeful this season. The midfield doesn’t provide enough cover, and the centre backs are left exposed. And the above-average teams make sure they pounce on this opportunity given to them. They conceded 4 against West Brom and Watford, and 3 against Southampton. They’ve conceded 5 against Arsenal. Manchester City have been merciless and scored 12 goals in 3 games against West Ham this season.




Change in tactics

Guess they haven’t adjusted to the Olympic stadium environment very well, as they seemed to have lost an identity they gained last season. Slaven Bilic has been too inventive at times and has introduced a host of tactics which have failed to work this season. This has led to them being in the relegation places more times than in the top 10 this season, which is not what most West Ham United fans envisioned after last season’s tale.

The failure to replace Payet and poor signings become a sub-factor here, as West Ham have replaced attractive counter-attacking football with possession based football this season. But more of the ball means, they get to carve out a lot of chances, considering they make an effort, which they haven’t. They wait for space to open up instead. They are so out of options, that they have resorted to playing Antonio as a centre-forward. A player clearly effective when played wide, this option hasn’t been working. As the narrow method of attacking has often left Michail Antonio isolated up front as they lose the ball too often. This has been a major factor which has led to their downfall, and also something Bilic has resorted to more and more since their downfall. It’s a cycle, and a sad one indeed.





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