The 2015/16 season ends and West Ham are flying: 7th place in the Premier League, Europa League action to look forward to and a move to a modern masterpiece that is the Olympic Stadium. An emotional final game at Upton Park moved manager Slaven Bilic to tears, the ground being embedded in the club’s history having played there since 1904, but the general consensus was that West Ham were moving on to bigger and better things.
West Ham dipped into the transfer market to strengthen an already competitive squad, Andre Ayew arriving from Swansea City for a club record fee of 20 million pounds to challenge the likes of Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho for a spot in The Hammers attack. A host of other inclusions were made, including some shrewd signings, as Havard Nordtveit and Sofiane Feghouli arrived on free transfers from Borussia Monchengladbach and Valencia, respectively. Gokhan Tore and Jonathan Calleri came in on loan deals, whilst Arthur Masuaku arrived from Greek giants Olympiacos to bolster the defensive ranks. Perhaps the biggest news of the transfer window was one that required no movement at all, as West Ham held on to their star man Dimitri Payet.
What followed was a series of concerning injury problems, leaving what originally looked a deep department of the squad suddenly looking lightweight. First it was promising full-back Aaron Creswell going down with a knee injury in pre-season, and he will not be fit until roughly November. Then it was consecutive injury blows to their strike force, with three key players ruled out. Andy Carroll, Andre Ayew and Diafra Sakho are all currently unavailable, having made a combined two starts from the first six league fixtures. Carroll and Sahko are expected to return within the next few weeks, but their star signing Ayew will not return to action until mid-November. With only young-guns Ashley Fletcher and loanee Jonathan Calleri left in the attacking ranks, West Ham made a late deal with Juventus to bring in Simone Zaza on loan. The Italian international has made four starts for the club but is yet to find the back of the net.
Now here we are, six games into the Premier League season, and it’s all gone wrong. Their Europa League campaign ended prematurely, for the second time in a row to the same opponents, exiting before the group stage by losing 2-1 on aggregate to Romanian outfit Astra Giurgiu. The Premier League has been unsympathetic to their injury problems, as they have lost five out of their opening six fixtures. They hold the worst record in the league for goals conceded, with 16, to see them occupy one of the three relegation spots.
Some truly calamitous performances have left fans in East London disgruntled, seeing them filing out en masse in their last two disastrous home performances. Even worse were reports of the club threatening life bans to those involved in crowd troubles following their 4-2 crumbling against Watford. Manager Slaven Bilic was disappointed to see the stands emptying in their most recent defeat, Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Southampton, with the stadium resembling a ghost town in the late stages of the game barring a small pocket of the away fans celebrating.
“An empty ground is not a good sight. It is very frustrating,” he said. “Compared to Bournemouth (1-0 win) when all the people were celebrating – it hurts, as a manager and as a team.” In a time where it would be easier to turn on your players and single them out, Bilic refused to do so as he took full responsibility for the recent poor run of form. “It is my team. I do not want to point fingers at individuals. One player can make a mistake but this is four games, it is a team mistake. All of us. It is 80 per cent the same players, same crowd, same manager as last season.”
The Hammers have conceded at least three goals in each of their last four games, 14 of the total 16 conceded coming within the last month. Such statistics won’t be impressing anyone affiliated with the club, notably Mark Noble, the West Ham skipper who dubbed the record ‘laughable’. “If I’m honest it could have been six in the end,” said Noble on their recent loss to Southampton. “On the bright side, I don’t think it can get any worse.”
West Ham’s next three fixtures could be worse, with home games against Middlesbrough and Stoke and an away trip to Crystal Palace. However, if recent form is anything to go by, then West Ham will be approaching each fixture with extreme caution. Slaven Bilic has time on his side so early into the season, but something needs to change fast if he is indeed the right man to bring the club out of their current slump.