With Leicester leading the Premier League into the home stretch, they have grabbed all the headlines as this season’s fairytale story. Were it not for the Foxes though talk of West Ham’s potential Champions League qualification would be all the rage and their final season at Upton Park looks set to end in one of their best ever top flight finishes.
The prospect of West Ham and Leicester being two of England’s four Champions League participants next season certainly isn’t mere fantasy. The Hammers are in fine form having won all of their last four matches and are only one point behind 4th placed Man City, who have been highly inconsistent of late.
If their form can maintain strong over their remaining nine games then there is every chance they can hold off the likes of Liverpool and Man United below them and they’d be well placed to take advantage if one of the sides above them was to end the season poorly.
With doubts aplenty about their move to the Olympic Stadium next season and particularly whether they can fill it, this sort of campaign has been exactly what they needed and various key figures deserve credit for their success.
The West Ham owners certainly can claim a degree of that having shown a great deal of ambition since taking control of the club they’ve always supported in 2010. They’ve invested sensibly and in Slaven Bilic they look to have recruited a very shrewd manager who is well-suited to the English game.
Bilic hasn’t set the world on fire since leaving the Croatia job in 2012 but his understanding of the club helped him settle quickly into the Upton Park hotseat. He has tactically outwitted several supposedly stronger sides inspiring wins over Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Man City and Everton as well doing the double over Liverpool. If they can beat Manchester United in the FA Cup this weekend they will have beaten all of the 7 most-fancied sides before a ball was kicked this season and that would be a remarkable achievement for a club that appeared to be going nowhere fast at the back end of the last campaign under Sam Allardyce.
West Ham are a well-organised outfit with a nice blend of pace, power and technical ability. Michail Antonio has proved a tremendous signing from Championship Nottingham Forest, Manuel Lanzini has impressed on loan while Cheikhou Kouyaté has formed a formidable midfield partnership alongside long-serving Mark Noble, who is playing himself into contention for an England call-up.
However one name stands out and that is Dimitri Payet. Much like Riyad Mahrez has provided the spark that has won tight matches for Leicester, Payet has done likewise for the Hammers and has helped turned what would most likely be a solid mid-table side into a Champions League chasing one.
His record for scoring and particularly creating goals was exceptional in Ligue 1 and he has looked at home in the Premier League from day one chipping in with 8 goals and 7 assists in 21 league starts this term.
The one blemish
It is no coincidence his absence from the side through injury coincided with West Ham’s dip in form, but Bilic deserves great credit for adapting his style and making the Hammers tough to beat during that period. At full strength West Ham are capable of beating anyone on their day and matches against Chelsea, Arsenal and Leicester over the coming weeks won’t fear them.
The lack of a consistent goalscoring striker is perhaps their biggest downfall and something they will need to address this summer. West Ham’s joint highest scoring strikers in the Premier League this season are Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho who have just 4 goals each.
That could see them just miss out on the top four but West Ham at the very least look like bringing Europa League football to the Olympic Stadium next season, which would still be a fine achievement.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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