With the race to finish in the Premier League top six looking more open than ever, a whole host of teams have the opportunity to challenge for a potential place in Europe.
West Ham are one side with aspirations of breaking into the European stratosphere, and the early seasons signs have been okay. Barring an opening day pummelling from Manchester City, things have improved somewhat – with the surprise defeat to Crystal Palace last time out ending a run of six games without defeat.
Hammers’ fans should remain optimistic though, even though they passed up the opportunity to go seventh an incredible five times last season. This campaign looks rather different, however, with the east London boys looking like they are up for the fight of scrapping their way in.
Here, 90min looks at seven reasons why European qualification is a real possibility for Manuel Pellegrini’s side…
Now it’s not often that the words ‘defensive stability’ and ‘West Ham’ go hand-in-hand but three clean sheets after seven matches is a very decent start.
Considering last season, the Hammers only kept six clean sheets during the whole campaign, three in seven is a considerably better record. Part of this is down to the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski (who’s injury may make clean sheets a lot harder to come by) but the partnership of Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna is starting to look quite solid.
Ogbonna has been the surprise of the season for West Ham, with many fans writing him off before a ball was kicked. But the former Italian international looks to have turned his form around, and has been a regular since the 1-1 draw at Brighton.
Hopefully, when Fabianski returns, clean sheets will be easier to come by as back-up ‘keeper Roberto has looked far from convincing, but so far the defence has seen an improvement from last season – as the Irons attempt to end a Premier League season with a positive goal difference for only the second time in their history.
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This is the first time in a long while that West Ham have a good looking squad, with actual depth to it.
Jack Wilshere and Fabian Balbuena are among those who have, on the whole, had watching briefs in east London, with £25m summer signing Pablo Fornals also struggling to force his way into the side.
When everyone is fully fit, it could be argued that West Ham have a stronger squad on paper than both Manchester United and Chelsea – with the former already being beaten 2-0 by the Hammers at the London Stadium.
Credit has to go to Manuel Pellegrini and director of football Mario Husillos for using the summer transfer window to strengthen the squad in the right places, by signing a mixture of first team starters and solid back-up options.
After years of searching, West Ham may finally have a striker who can score goals on a consistent basis.
The Frenchman became the Hammers’ record signing in the summer, joining from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer. Not only does he score goals, his hold up play and ability to bring others into the game is top class, with many saying that Haller was the reason that former strike-partner Luka Jovic got his move to Real Madrid.
Arguably, Haller got the better move of the two anyway – and four goals and one assist in seven games is a decent return for someone who had never played in England before.
Players Returning From Injury
Last season, it could be argued that West Ham were cost a potential seventh place finish due to the amount of injuries they had.
Andriy Yarmolenko was out for pretty much the whole season after tearing his achilles against Spurs in October last season, while Manuel Lanzini, who many believe has been West Ham’s best player this season, didn’t ply until late last season after rupturing a cruciate ligament for Argentina prior to the World Cup.
Ryan Fredericks was also out for a while, leaving the Hammers to rely on 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta and inexperienced Ben Johnson at right full-back.
This season has been a different story though. Yarmolenko is back and has scored three times already and Lanzini has provided the creative spark that was missing. Fredericks, meanwhile, has been an ever present and the club are playing an entertaining brand of free-flowing football. Known in parts unknown to many of us as the ‘West Ham way’.
After a shaky start under Manuel Pellegrini, Rice has established himself as one of the first names on the team-sheet – as well as becoming an England regular.
His ability to break play up and just sit in front of the defence gives West Ham the added protection that they so desperately needed last season. The 20-year-old is arguably the best thing to come out of West Ham’s academy since his midfield partner Mark Noble, and both have excelled so far this season.
Rice has openly stated that he loves the club and has quickly established himself as a firm fan favourite, and he may be a key reason in helping the Hammers’ achieve their ambitions.
It’s not often a middle-aged bloke running onto the pitch with a corner flag in his hand can change the direction of a club, but thankfully on this occasion, it worked.
3-0 down at home to Burnley, with fans frustrated at the lack of spending, the lack of ambition and above all, the move from Upton Park, West Ham fans turned on the owners after a series of dismal displays.
Since then, the club’s hierarchy – owners David Sullivan and David Gold, along with vice-chairman Baroness Karren Brady, have overseen the appointment of a Premier League winning manager, forked out well over £100m in transfer fees and given the manager the freedom to identify transfer targets alongside trusted associate Mario Husillos.
That, above all else, could be key in West Ham booking some highly sought after easyJet flights next year.