Leicester might be hitting all the Premier League headlines, but Derek Bilton reminds us that West Ham United are also having a stellar season and they’re doing it ‘the West Ham way’.
Leicester City’s improbable title assault has meant that West Ham’s achievements this season are flying somewhat under the radar. Not that you will hear Slaven Bilic complaining.
Like Claudio Ranieri at Leicester Bilic’s target at the start of the campaign was keeping the club in the Premier League. So to that end they have already exceeded expectations. The Hammers, who are top of TEAMtalk’s Power Rankings, sit fifth in the league and but for a very iffy penalty award in the dying embers of their clash with Chelsea at the weekend would be fourth.
Bilic arrived last summer as a complete novice in terms of managing a top-flight club. It was a huge gamble giving him the job but he’s had an amazing impact. He’s bought well and got them playing cultured football on the deck so whatever happens from here they will head to the Olympic Stadium next season in rude health.
If they do manage to finish in the top four it will give the club a huge boost and means they will be able to go for players who want to play in the Champions League next season. The carrot of playing at the Olympic Stadium – and possibly against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich – cannot be overstated.
It’s a big ‘if’ however. Successive games against Arsenal and then Leicester next month should tell us plenty, and with their final two games pitting them against Manchester United and Stoke they will have certainly earned their place at Europe’s top table should they make it. It’s not beyond them though, especially given how Manchester City have been dropping points. City have now won just three times in 11 matches in all competitions since announcing Pep Guardiola would be coming to England, and their home form is a real concern. In fact none of the teams vying for a top-four berth have looked overly convincing in recent weeks.
Hammers fans must be pinching themselves. Fifth in the league and among the betting favourites now to land the FA Cup, their rise in 2015/16 has been meteoric. They are not only winning football matches, they are doing it the ‘West Ham way’. To the uninitiated this means having a go whether they are playing home or away. Never sitting back and inviting pressure. No false nines or putting ten men behind the ball. Just good honest attacking football. And much of this is being orchestrated by Dimitri Payet, the lavishly gifted Frenchman who is the beating heart of this West Ham side. Eight goals and eight assists in his first season in the Premier League doesn’t tell the full story. He simply oozes classes and opponents cannot get near him. Indeed there is a feeling at the Boleyn Ground that if they keep him fit anything is possible.
Payet is one of the main reasons West Ham are cultivating a reputation as something of an ‘East End Barcelona’ but they are far from a one man team. You don’t achieve what they have this season relying one one man. Manuel Lanzini, Aaron Creswell and Mark Noble are all flying for the Hammers, consistently doing the business for a team that has lost just two of their last 22 matches. Anyone who has seen them in recent weeks can decipher they are a side playing without fear. The pressure, and the shackles, are off. And it’s quite wonderful to watch.
Leicester and West Ham in the Champions League next season? In this craziest of all Premier League campaigns only a fool would bet against it.