On the back of Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Leicester, West Ham United enter the international break with just two points from their last five matches.
This lacklustre haul leaves the side in 12th place, nine points clear of relegation, but someway behind last season’s impressive campaign. In fact, even if the Hammers were to win all of their remaining games, they would still fall short of last year’s total.
Finishing near mid-table would be a good achievement considering the turbulent effect of several off-pitch factors, including the protracted Dimitri Payet saga and various teething problems since moving to the London Stadium.
The move was supposed to herald a new progressive age under Slaven Bilic, in which West Ham could become a major force not just in England but within football on the continent. Given the club’s prestigious past, large support base and new 60,000 spectator capacity, the ambition appeared realistic.
As it stands it still can be. First, however, the East-London club must recover from a slump that could quickly see them dragged into a relegation dogfight. Fortunately enough, the international break has come to provide respite.
Michail Antonio, who has been by far the most positive aspect of Bilic’s second season in charge, suffered a hamstring injury in Saturday’s defeat. The full-back turned winger has been a revelation since joining from Nottingham Forest in 2015 and is the side’s top scorer this term, having registered nine goals.
Antonio has since withdrawn from the England squad, and will, therefore remain uncapped; despite having been selected on three occasions. For Hammer’s fans, this is good news, as it gives a key player time to recover for upcoming fixtures.
That time could prove to be crucial – West Ham face Hull City, Arsenal, Swansea City and Sunderland in their next four games. Given Hull’s improvement under Marco Silva, Bilic will be wary of the Tigers’ cutting down the nine-point cushion.
Should the Hammers lose that game, a midweek trip to Arsenal – who are also out of form – will be intensified by the possibility of finding themselves just three points clear of Hull, who face a struggling Middlesbrough that evening.
Winston Reid is another key player who developed an injury on Saturday. He too could return for an important run of matches, thanks to a two-week gap being spent at Rush Green, (the side’s training base) provided by the international break.
Often it is the case that delays in fixtures and breaks within a season can cause loss of momentum, managers frequently stating that they have come at a bad time. For West Ham, the opposite is now true.
A short rest gives Bilic time to readdress issues within his squad. Defensive issues have hampered the side, who have scored eight in those last five games yet only gained two points. However, most vital are the potential returns of Antonio and Reid.
Given the fixture list, their future is still in their own hands. Yet if recent form continues, Sunderland, Swansea, and Hull will see the Hammers as a chance to gain ground.
If that were to happen, and West Ham’s points advantage slips away, games against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Burnley will be a daunting end of the season for everyone at the London Stadium.
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