It is no secret that West Ham have had a tough start to the season. Teething problems with the new stadium have transferred onto the pitch, and rumours have emerged today in the sun that manager Slaven Bilic has just three games to keep his job.
It is a remarkable state of affairs at the London Stadium. Bilic is a cult hero at the club. He was popular as a player and only enhanced his reputation further as manager after a surprise push for the Champions League places last season. To see him clinging onto his job just six games into the new season was an utterly ridiculous prospect just a few weeks ago.
However, things were different last term. For one, West Ham were playing at the Boleyn Ground steeped in history and passion. Now they are in the old Olympic Stadium, learning their new environment and coming to terms with being the tenants of a corporate organisation. Dimitri Payet looked like a world-beater last season and now looks disinterested. Many key players from last campaign, such as Aaron Cresswell, have suffered difficult injuries in the opening weeks of the season.
Put all this together in the melting pot of the modern game and Bilic is a manager sitting in the relegation zone and fighting for his job. The next three games, and opponents, then, are vital.
On first viewing, things couldn’t be much better for the Croat. West Ham’s next game next showing is at home to Middlesbrough, a side who; like the Irons, have only managed a solitary win this season, which makes them useful opponents. Furthermore, they have only managed to earn a single point in their last four games, with three defeats on the spin, so on paper, this appears to be a good fixture for the Hammers to get back to winning ways.
However, Boro; despite their recent malaise, are very competent in defence for a team at the bottom of the table, and will provide a stern test for West Ham’s misfiring attack. A good result against them could help the Hammers get over their problems at home, but a defeat will only darken the mood further.
Then the Hammers head across London to face an in form Crystal Palace team, in what could be a really tough game for Bilic. Palace have won their last three on the trot, and the danger men of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha have been swinging balls into the deadly Christian Benteke in the box.
However, what might aid West Ham is that Palace have not pressed at the same intensity as other teams who have caused them big problems this season. Southampton destroyed them on the counter last weekend but The Eagles are not the same kind of team. West Ham will have periods on the ball at the back where the defence may be able to gain some confidence, which could count in their favour, although they will have to stand up much better to crosses to stand a chance.
The third game of Bilic’s crucial spell is back at home against Sunderland, the league’s bottom side. The Black Cats have been really poor this season, and haven’t looked to build on a positive end to last season. If the Hammers are going to get out of their troubled period, this is a game they must, and should, win. However, like the Middlesbrough game, if they lose this one, it could have massively negative impact on the side, and it could spell the end for the manager.
If Bilic really is under pressure, then these three games represent the most important of his West Ham career. Coming up are three winnable fixtures that could restore confidence and pull them out of the bottom three and out of their struggle, but should they continue to lose, confidence could plummet to an all time low.
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