Back in November things were looking bright at Upton Park. West Ham were 4th in the table and playing some exceptional football, Sam Allardyce and striker Diafra Sakho won the Manager and Player of the Month awards for October and the club had already beaten the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. The prospect of European football in their penultimate season at the Boleyn Ground was looking likely.
But fast-forward to February and progress seems to have stalled. The Hammers haven’t won a league game since 18th January and were convincingly dumped out of the FA Cup at the fifth round stage by a resurgent West Bromwich Albion, losing 4-0.
Ravel Morrison had his contract cancelled and speculation surrounding ‘Big Sam’ and his future at the club won’t go away. Allardyce was also handed a huge blow when it was revealed that striker Andy Carroll would miss the rest of the season following a knee injury.
With the club now sitting in 8th position, many fans are thinking, where do we go from here?
For West Ham, to get Europa League football would constitute a great season. Spurs currently occupy the 6th place spot needed to qualify and only five points separate them and the Hammers, a very achievable gap to chase down.
Losing Carroll does not mean that West Ham’s season is over. The onus now is on Sakho and Enner Valencia to get goals for the Hammers. Valencia has played the majority of his games out wide, but Carroll’s injury could see the Ecuador international shifted to his favoured central striker role, the position he played so well at last summer’s World Cup.
Allardyce has also signed free-agent Nene to give the side another attacking option. The former PSG man would definitely ease the load that Sakho and Valencia have to carry, but at 33 years of age his best days are very much behind him. It’s a gamble signing this type of player but he could turn out to be a major coup come May.
Allardyce’s side is also built on solid foundations in defence. Adrian in goal has been a revelation and is loved by West Ham supporters, in front of him centre-halves James Collins, James Tomkins and Winston Reid have been solid all season. It looks as though Reid’s future lies away from Upton Park, with Spurs favourites to sign the New Zealander as a free-agent in the summer, but he has still performed excellently at the heart of defence.
Full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell both look like future England internationals in the making. Cresswell in particular has been outstanding as a left-back playing his first season of Premier League football. His pace and attacking instincts give the Hammers plenty of options going forward.
Another contributing factor to West Ham’s successes is the resurgence of Stuart Downing. Moved into a number 10 position at the start of the campaign, Downing has flourished in the new role which earned him a deserved recall to the England squad. He’s been given freedom by Allardyce to express himself on the ball and has shown his ability to create and score goals in this new position.
However, for me, the key player in this whole Hammers side is Alex Song. Song joined on a season-long loan from Barcelona and has arguably been the Premier League’s signing of the season. The former Arsenal man has been outstanding playing as a holding midfielder and without him, West Ham wouldn’t be so high up the table.
Song hasn’t scored a league goal and only has one assist to his name, but his role in the team allows those around him to grab the headlines. Having been schooled by Barcelona and Arsenal, Song’s range of passing is understandably superb. Stopping opposition attacks and making that first pass to get West Ham going forward is what Song has done throughout the season with apparent ease.
What will be disappointing for the club is missing out on signing Lassana Diarra. The 29 year-old was training with West Ham but due to apparent ‘FIFA regulations’ the deal is off for now. Diarra plays his game in a similar style to Song; sitting as a defensive midfielder his main qualities are breaking up the play and his distribution of the ball. Allardyce has stated that he wants to try and sign Diarra again in the off-season but whether that’s as Song’s replacement, or whether Allardyce will be the West Ham manager at that time, remains to be seen.
There’s no doubting that West Ham is a club with so much potential. The owners have lofty ambitions and the move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016 supports their aspirations. But for now, the main focus should be this season and whether they can bring European football to the Boleyn Ground for the last time, and give one of England’s most iconic football stadia the send-off it truly deserves.