Matty Roper takes us through his theory on West Ham and thier European hopes:
West Ham United are a team that would have been tipped for a mid-table finish in the Barclays Premier League before the first ball was kicked in August. However, to the disbelief of many football fans and pundits alike, Slaven Bilic’s side are remarkably chasing a top four finish. They currently lie five points behind Manchester City who occupy the final Champions League spot, and they will certainly be determined to end their time at Upton Park with a bang by overturning that deficit.
As The Hammers prepare to relocate to the 60,000-seater Olympic Stadium, their fans will undoubtedly have mixed emotions about leaving the iconic Boleyn Ground, the place they have called home since 1904. However, if this season is anything to go by, they should look forward with great optimism as their team look to be on the up. Should West Ham secure European football, whether that be in the Champions League or the Europa League, it will certainly be a huge step in the right direction for them.
In my eyes they are a ‘sleeping giant’ of the footballing world. That term gets thrown around too much at times, but there is no denying that The Hammers are a huge football club with an illustrious history. Some greats of the beautiful game plied their trade at Upton Park: Frank Lampard, Trevor Brooking, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore to name just a few. They are real ‘legends’ in the eyes of United supporters and the current crop of players must use them as inspiration as they look to bring success to the club.
Why have West Ham surprised everyone this season?
Well, the quality of football Slaven Bilic’s men have produced has certainly caught the eye of spectators around the world. One player that is constantly grabbing the headlines is Dimitri Payet, a French wizard that has unerring ability with a ball at his feet. He will be the firm favourite for West Ham’s player of the season award, but he is only one cog of many in the well oiled machine Bilic has constructed.
The Croation manager has took to life in England very well and he is reaping the rewards of his footballing philosophy. West Ham United sides of the past have been built around a creative midfield, and the current side are undoubtedly getting fans off of their seats. Playing in the typical ‘West Ham way’, his players attack with real speed and aggression, a dynamic that has opened up many opposition defences. They have a team boasting a vast amount of talent and they are challenging at the top end of the division as a result.
Of course, Leicester City will deservedly steal the headlines following their incredible rise to the top of the Premier League, but The Hammers deserve plaudits also. The recent 3-3 draw at rivals Arsenal would have been disappointing for supporters considering a number of dubious refereeing decisions went against Bilic’s men. However, their performance was very promising once more and despite having an uphill task achieve European qualification, everyone associated with the club will remain optimistic.
Do I think Bilic can lead his side to Europe?
It will certainly be a tough ask for them now with five points between them and Manchester City, but I am confident they can qualify for the Europa League at the minimum. I would love to see The Hammers in the Champions League, as would be many other football fans, but you have to put both Manchester clubs in front of them in terms of likelihood at the moment. There is still plenty of football to be played, however, so who knows?
Personally, I think Manuel Pellegrini will secure fourth spot in his final season at the Etihad Stadium. If my prediction comes to fruition (it probably won’t), that leaves Manchester United and West Ham fighting for fifth place.
When the two sides meet in the penultimate game of the season, that could prove pivotal. Prior to that game, The hammers face Leicester City, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City. From those fixtures, if Bilic can lead his side to at least 9 points, they’ll be in with a great shout.
Their final encounter happens to be away at Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium, a place that is notoriously difficult to play at. Mark Hughes’ Potters are having a solid campaign themselves and they’ll be no pushovers. However, if West Ham can continue playing with such expansion and directness, the Olympic Stadium could be welcoming some of Europe’s greatest sides next term. With the influx of television money being plowed into England’s top tier next season, a spell in Europe could kickstart a new era in style.
Follow Matty Roper on Twitter – @M_Roper96
Check out his blog as well – https://mattyroper.wordpress.com/
All photos by Jess Rumsey