Whilst every top-flight club across the continent seemingly wants to see their team involved in regular European action with every passing season, sometimes the opportunity to disrupt week-to-week domestic proceedings with the need to play in yet another club competition isn’t always met with welcoming arms.
On the contrary, whilst the Champions League will likely remain the pinnacle achievement in club football across the modern era, the same simply can’t be said of it’s somewhat less-attractive and far more unpopular cousin – in the shape of the Europa League.
However, as West Ham United are currently on the verge of playing out the final ever season at Upton Park in 2015/16, one would perhaps think that the Hammers would take to their Europa League duties with full confidence this year. The reality though, has simply proven far more difficult than Slaven Bilic would have initially expected at his new club…
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West Ham’s upcoming competitive fixture sees the Upton Park faithful travel to Romania with the need to take three points home in their sights, just three days before the club’s opening game of the Premier League campaign at the Emirates. It’s a situation no fan really wants to be in, and has subsequently called into question the entire validity of the club’s supposed European push this season.
So then, with thoughts of the Europa League firmly in mind – should Slaven Bilic simply cut off his new outfit’s ties with the competition already this summer, or is the chance to make their mark in Europe simply too big an opportunity for West Ham to turn down in their final season at Upton Park?
Whilst the need to remain relatively sensible ahead of each new Premier League campaign of course has to stay at the forefront of the club’s collective mind-set this season, most of the Upton Park faithful would likely want to see their side at least put up a fight against their Romanian opposition, and boldly continue the club’s run in the competition.
If the east-enders could begin their new spell at London’s Olympic Stadium off the back of a decently successful run in the Europa League throughout 2015/16, West Ham fans could truly find their side in a much improved position this time next year. The chance to play in Europe invariably brings in a better calibre of players, and better players usually represent some vastly superior performances and improved results in the long-run.
However, whilst such a romanticised view will likely be one strongly circulating in and around Upton Park at the moment, top-flight English football very rarely proves so accommodating for the somewhat ‘smaller’ clubs wanting to make that all important step up in status. As results in the tricky competition have so far proven difficult for Hammers supporters, the Europa League is a task that simply can’t be taken lightly any time soon.
Even against the largely unknown likes of Birkirkara FC (Malta) and FC Astra (Romania), West Ham have distinctly struggled against their foreign opposition. Bilic’s current crop of players have shown themselves to be completely naïve when it comes to dealing with their opponent’s off-ball tactics and gamesmanship related schemes – for each of Diafra Sakho, James Tomkins and James Collins have already faced separate red card incidents during their brief run in the tournament.
For a side that initially qualified for the chance to play in the Europa League via fair play, three sending offs in three different matches proves a rather ironic stat to say the least.
The fact that West Ham ultimately got involved in European action this summer via the fair play route – as opposed to actually earning it through their position in the league last season – also serves to demonstrate just how unprepared the club will prove to be when it comes to multi-tasking in 2015/16. Newly acquired players like Dimitri Payet, Angelo Ogbonna and Pedro Obiang will admittedly aid their club’s cause next term, but West Ham simply have to sign a further few more players this summer if their squad is to cope with the amount of fixtures brought on by the Europa League.
Ultimately then, whilst it would be nice for Hammers fans to see their side succeed in Europe across the coming campaign, it realistically seems as if this current West Ham squad are nowhere near equipped enough for dealing with such a mammoth task. Regardless of the final result against FC Astra, Slaven Bilic’s new side have so far looked surprisingly out of their depth in the competition.
Sometimes simply facing reality head on is the only real option left on the table, for it nonetheless looks like West Ham are not quite ready for the Europa League just yet…