WSOU

Long Shots with Louie Vol. 1

Date: September 14, 2021

By: Louie Pasculli

A group of West Ham soccer players celebrate after a goal.

Getty Images

Can West Ham repeat its 2020-2021 success?

West Ham was promoted back to the top flight of English football in 2012. Since then, the football club failed to qualify for the Europa League outright.

The 2019-2020 campaign was underwhelming. The squad finished 16th in the Premier League and only escaped the relegation zone by one place. West Ham looked toward 2020-2021 with hopes of improvement. The only football fans who genuinely thought West Ham could succeed in the Premier League was their own supporters, and through will, determination, and a bit of luck, West Ham emerged as the sixth best club in the league last season finishing with all-time team high of 65 points.

The 2020-2021 campaign was nothing short of magical and West Ham proved they deserved a spot in the Europa league. Although the heroics will stick around in the minds of West Ham supporters for years to come—that was last year. This year provides an even bigger challenge for the club leaving many with one burning question.

Can West Ham repeat the success of last season? In my opinion, yes. Beginning with a review of their successes from last year and culminating in an outlook towards this season, I’ll explain why West Ham just might find themselves playing in European competition again this time next year.

Tomas Soucek stands during a photo day for West Ham soccer club.

West Ham United F.C..com

One of the most integral parts of West Ham’s 126th season in existence began before a football was kicked. On July 24, 2020, midfielder Tomas Soucek became the most notable player to transfer to the to the Hammers. Costing the club 15 million euros and hailing from Slavia Prague, Soucek’s role in West Ham’s success was second to none—well, maybe second to one. Another player with immense impact was West Ham’s own Michail Antonio.

Spoiler alert, these two players would combine for 20 goals in the Premier League, and both become West Ham’s leading goal scorers all-time with 10 goals apiece. Combined with up-and-coming youngster Declan Rice and veteran goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, the Hammers’ starting 11 had quality players, but questions remained due to the unpredictability and inconsistency of the side.

The most stable aspect of the football club going into the 2020-2021 campaign was gaffer David Moyes. Moyes has been around the Premier League as only one of four managers to win over 200 league games. With an extensive resume including managing for Everton, Manchester United, and La Liga team Real Sociedad, Moyes knows how to get the best out of his players and produce pleasant results. Even with extensive managerial experience, Moyes would have his work cut out for him as West Ham was still on the outside looking in. 

With a stacked schedule to kick off the season, West Ham’s performance was rather average. The Hammers only won two of seven games. They fell to Newcastle in the season opener, Arsenal in the second game, and Liverpool in the seventh. The two wins came in the third and fourth games against Wolves and Leicester City where the Hammers scored four and three goals, respectively. The next two games were draws against Tottenham and Manchester City.

Although it wasn’t the best start, West Ham United proved they could hang tough with some of the better teams in the Premier League. Antonio kicked of the best season of his career notching three goals in the seven-game span.

West Ham's David Moyes smiles during a West Ham soccer game.

Getty Images

Knowing his squad still needed improvement, Moyes led West Ham United to eight wins over the course of the next 14 Premier League games. The three losses the Hammers suffered were fairly reasonable as Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool all put three goals past goalkeeper Fabianski and emerged victorious. In the 11 other games that ended level or in favor of West Ham, none of the opponents were teams that finished in the top six of the table.

By this point, West Ham had started to gain traction among European soccer fans, but still lacked consistency against big clubs. Soucek was busy making his presence known scoring seven goals thus far; most of which came from his holding midfield position. Matchday 20 was completed on Jan. 26, 2021, but West Ham’s second most important day of the season came just three days later.

Jesse Lingard joined the club on Jan. 29 and quickly became the spark plug West Ham needed to propel them to the top tier of football. Despite joining after the halfway point in the season, Lingard scored nine goals and recorded four assists for the football club. In the next 18 games, West Ham won nine, cementing their spot in the top six in the Premier League.

The magical 2020-2021 campaign concluded with the team scoring an all-time high of 65 points in the Premier League which was good enough for a spot in the Europa League tournament. Fans of the Irons will be bragging and boasting about this season for years to come. With a lackluster 2-7-1 record against the five other top six teams in the Premier league, West Ham managed to take control of the games against lesser opponents and make the most out of what they could.  

Jessie Lingard points towards the sky during a West Ham soccer game.

Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Although the 2020-2021 heroics are still fresh in the minds of fans, some (me) argue West Ham has a harder task then raising from irrelevancy—repeating the success of last year all while balancing European competition. It’s not going to be easy, but I think the squad is more than capable.

To start off, West Ham had a relatively good preseason and transfer window. The forward Lingard and starting center back Fabian Balbuena are no longer part of the team as they departed via loan termination and transfer out respectively. As for incoming transfers, West Ham spent nearly 30 million euros for Balbuena’s replacement Kurt Zouma from Chelsea. Center back Craig Dawson was brought in from Watford to add depth to the position.

With nearly the entire starting 11 returning for 2021-2022, West Ham is poised to make a run for another Europa league qualification. The club’s great form was on full display throughout the entirety of the preseason. In seven preseason games, the Hammers won five and drew two. Celtic F.C. was debatably the team’s toughest opponent.

The final score was a 6-2 West Ham victory in which five different Hammers scored a goal. Antonio also continues to be dominant in the attacking third scoring three goals in the last three preseason games. His golden touch would continue into the beginning of the Premier League season.

It seems as though West Ham as a whole reflects the form of their No. 9 as they are unbeaten in three Premier League games thus far this season. Antonio leads the Premier League in scoring in the early stages, and Soucek is back in the scoring column with a goal to his name. West Ham beat both Newcastle United and Leicester City handedly scoring four goals in both games. Their most recent game was a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

The last 1,000 words you’ve just read are not describing a Cinderella story. This is a team that is for real and here to stay. Beating all expectations last season is not to be taken lightly. It’s no question that losing a nine-goal scorer will negatively affect a squad, but with the way Antonio has been playing of late, he is peaking at just the right time to be a deadly goalscoring threat in the Premier League.

It’s not by chance that the preseason and beginning of the regular season have gone well for the Hammers. Moyes is accustomed to winning, and every team he manages has success. West Ham United is no different. They are a quality team, and Moyes will continue to get every possible morsel of talent to show up on matchday until West Ham are cemented in the top six.

Some may think playing more games thanks to the Europa League will hurt the club. I’d say they are wrong because Moyes will get more chances to see his younger players develop into players that can hold their own in Premier League games. I think Moyes is chomping at the bit just waiting to wreak havoc in the Europa league and see how deep of a run the Hammers can make. They have all the pieces and parts of a successful football club.

In somewhat similar fashion to Leicester City, West Ham is going to build on last season and be even better this campaign. A winning and passionate manager, a sneakily deadly striker, a good supporting cast, an above average goalkeeper, and more games to develop players. West Ham shouldn’t be taken lightly—at all.

Going forward, this column will be about long shots and borderline hot takes, but the more I immerse myself in the West Ham situation, the less I view this as a long shot and the more I view it as reality.

Louie Pasculli can be reached at louis.pasculli@student.shu.edu.

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