Can West Ham realistically aim for the Europa League?

After the fans openly expressed anger towards last season’s disappointment of a 13th place finish and a long run trying to steer themselves clear of the dreaded relegation zone little was really expected this season. Not only were they upset about the bottom half finish, but the style of football that was being played and the lack of goals were also a major concern for everyone associated with West Ham. How times have changed.

With a plethora of new signings arriving in this year’s summer transfer window, former striker and West Ham fans’ favourite Teddy Sheringham being appointed as a striker coach and a new system on the field that enables the Upton Park outfit to keep the ball on the deck, the east Londoners currently sit in an impressive seventh place in the table. Above the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal, the Hammers can now be classed a force to be reckoned with. On the basis of this excellent start by Sam Allardyce’s men, can the Boleyn Ground side reach the dizzying heights of a place in the Europa League for the first time since 2006 where they crashed out against Italian outfit Palermo?

The one element that has been fundamental to the great beginning to the 2014/2015 campaign is balance. Since Big Sam took the reins at Upton Park, West Ham have been known to play long balls, and the players built for the physical battle instead of being blessed with flair and skill were chosen. This was fine in the 2011/2012 season in the Championship, however, it sometimes fails to work in England’s top flight. With requests to play more attractive football this season, Allardyce has had to be clever with his signings considering he needs more firepower in front of goal balanced with solidity.

Signing the likes of Aaron Cresswell, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Song and Cheickhou Kouyate brings a good work ethic, strength and capability of going on the offensive from the defensive position at any given time. Up top, Diafra Sakho has scored five goals in as many starts, and where do we even begin with £15m forward Enner Valencia! – scorer of a thunderbolt away at Hull City. As well as bringing flair, Mauro Zarate brings a certain class and greediness that the Hammers have lacked, with Frenchman Morgan Amalfitano also contributing to the team of late. The Hammers are in good shape to continue this great run so far.

However, one player that has surprised everyone in Premier League is Stewart Downing. Playing at the head of the diamond midfield, the former Liverpool winger has reignited his ailing career in the Hammers’ line up. Statistically, the Middlesbrough born midfielder has created 87 chances since the 2013/2014 campaign, more than any other player. Compared to £59.7m Manchester United superstar Angel Di Maria, the former Aston Villa player has better shooting accuracy, has created more chances, has completed more crosses and passes with greater success, as well as winning more tackles than the Argentine wing wizard.

Compared to their previous two seasons since their promotion to the top flight, the Hammers’ changes are coming into fruition. Having more shots per game, more shots on target, more possession per game and a greater passing accuracy, it’s definitely noticeable that Allardyce has listened to the fans and owners about the football that is being played, and better still the results are exceeding expectations.

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