Filed: Saturday, 15th April 2017
By: Adam Smith
After a much needed win, West Ham have what appears to be, some breathing room from the bottom of the table.
Three points from a team desperate to stave off relegation is crucial, especially when your own squad is fighting relegation demons of their own. However, at the outset, it was never supposed to be like this. The 2016-17 was season destined much more than a relegation battle, just a reminder.
Shockingly close to the relegation zone, West Ham United, a team believed to be threatening for a top six position in the 2016-17 season, only has a handful of winnable games remaining. A missed opportunity to drag themselves to the middle of the table and essentially end a team’s hopes for escaping relegation, was the Hull away game.
West Ham has three games left that should see them challenging three points banked in each match. These are Sunderland away, Stoke City away and Burnley away. These games will not be easy as they are away matches, however based on outset and player-to-player skill West Ham should be favourites in these fixtures.
And this is where West Ham’s victory over Swansea brings forward a negative reaction. At the outset of this season West Ham was poised to challenge the top tier teams for a top-table finish. My, how the views have changed.
After failing to manage a point from Hull, West Ham and the collective supporters realistically did not even view Arsenal as a beatable team. A team that has had more negative story lines coming out of them than West Ham, Arsenal was supposed to be a team West Ham was approaching, however the form of this season has dashed these hopes.
The reality is now that West Ham need to beat the teams around them and below them. Games against Everton, Tottenham, and Liverpool should be approached with a defensive first mindset, where a draw would be a massive success.
West Ham will have to lean on the four-defender formation they have been playing with, in their remaining games. Against Swansea the not top choice back line was absolutely superb in all aspects. The majority of the first half was spent by both teams feeling their opposition out, however the defensive play in the second half held up Kouyate’s winner.
Play by the two centre backs, Jose Fonte and James Collins was the highlight of the match. Both defenders played intelligently, keeping the opposition to the outside, however Collins’ characteristically tough play was on display in this match. Highlighted by his goal line clearance, James Collins was the apparent man of the match for West Ham.
What cannot be overlooked is the play of West Ham wing backs, Sam Byram and Arthur Masuaku. Masuaku played solidly throughout the match and many believe he now has played himself into a position for the future. West Ham would be wise to invest in the French defender, to round out Cresswell’s wing back position with youth, skill and talent. Masuaku should factor into West Ham’s remaining games in some capacity, as Cresswell’s health has been dodgy at best this season and another injury could be behind any corner.
Despite Kouyate’s heroics and Collins’ brilliance, Sam Byram is getting much of the love on social media, for his efforts in this oh-so crucial match. Byram punctuated the win for West Ham with a vital tackle in the dying minutes of the match. A string of games seemed to be the remedy to Byram’s inconsistent play as he was staunch on defence and played himself into the offence as well. Byram had a near miss to tack a goal on for West Ham, surely, he is nearing his first Premier League cap. A veteran right back should still be acquired for Byram’s development, and the stories of Zabaleta signing could be perfect for Byram looking forward.
Offensively the match provided ups and downs. Losing Michail Antonio to injury for the remainder of the season is absolutely tragic to West Ham’s cause. Sure, he can be boneheaded and undisciplined at times, however his pace is an offensive tinderbox for the Hammers and he will surely be missed. This vacancy in the attack should see the likes of Feghouli and Snodgrass draw in more regularly.
The goal that Kouyate scored was pure brilliance and was the result of Slaven Bilic being forced to play him in his natural position. Far from a right back, centre back, or even anchor defensive midfielder, Kouyate needs to traverse the field and swing his long limbs towards goal to be successful. His strike was near perfection as it curved the defenders and beat the keeper to the post.
Some interesting final takes revolve around two players who have been central to many story lines for West ham this year: Mark Noble and Jonathan Calleri. Noble picked up his tenth yellow card of the season and how must serve a two-match ban. This is cause for concern as Obiang being injured leaves the middle of the field open for someone to fill in. Mr. West Ham was sure to pick up another yellow this season, hopefully his absence does not factor into the Sunderland match.
Calleri, who was subbed on early into the match with Antonio pulling up lame, had many scratching their heads. Calleri moved up top and Ayew slotted over to reorganise the attack. Not a large target, Calleri needed to be quick and deceptive in order to make an impact, and he was. A string of matches, should he be provided one, will be telling of his potential and of his future at West Ham.
Now, for the reminder I mentioned earlier. This season has been a let down and a mess for West Ham. The team was poised to challenge the top tier clubs, however they do find themselves in a relegation battle as it stands now. The Swansea win was crucial but it was a sign that this club did not take the step forward it needed to this season. It should be said that despite the disappointing season the Hammers should hold their heads high and finish strong. Mid-table is reachable, and many would view it as acceptable…given the circumstances.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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