There’s a problem when you do well. In fact, it’s worse when you do better than you were expected to.
West Ham have just had a better season than anyone would have thought was possible before a ball was kicked, and now on the back of that success, more will be expected and required by the board, but more importantly by the supporters, inn 2016/17.
Realism will vanish and be replaced with fervent optimism to the point of disappointment should the Hammers fail to capitalise on Slaven Bilic’s first season.
To come into a club and stamp your mark, not just on the team but on every aspect of that club, with more than 11 new players arriving takes some doing, but Bilic achieved that and more. West Ham’s academy looks to be thriving once again, too, and a few of the players were given a chance at the beginning of the season – many have recently signed new contracts, as well. Reece Oxford is expected to stay after the usual transfer rumours, which again is a positive.
But with all of the exultation of a past season comes the realisation that West Ham need to keep competing and remain a serious challenger for the title, for Champions League football and for silverware.
Where do West Ham’s problems begin? Well, here are FIVE big ones…
This will be the biggest problem for everyone connected with West Ham. Some of the fans will be on cloud nine, and rightly so, but the need to stay competitive is a necessary evil that will haunt clubs that cannot keep pace with the very best. West Ham are nowhere near in terms of pulling power or spending power yet, but without doubt they will be in the next three or four seasons.
For now, the board and the fans will need to realise that this is a club with great ambition, but not the kind that will be fulfilled overnight. They may not sign exactly who they would like, they may not break into the top four next season and they may not win a trophy, however, if they can stay close to 2015/16’s efforts, then West Ham must be satisfied.
Although West Ham struggled to put out a defence that played consistently together, there were occasions when they seemed tight and adept at dealing with all that was thrown at them. With replacement right-backs, who deputised exceptionally well, West Ham still leaked goals – often at a rate of two per game in the last quarter of the season. For a team to push up the league, this record is a concern. The left-back spot appears safe, but the right-back slot will be a challenge and the centre-halves need to play together more frequently.
The midfield was one of West Ham’s strongest positions with Mark Noble becoming a better player as the season progressed and Cheikhou Kouyate developing into a significantly influential individual. Pedro Obiang’s stay looks tenuous, even though the fans like him, but with Manuel Lanzini and the wonderfully gifted Dimitri Payet attacking at the head of the midfield, any strengthening here will be on the wings. With a defensive midfielder already signed, there’s not a lot of tinkering to be done here.
The biggest problem. Payet was the leading scorer for West Ham last season, but the line of Enner Valencia, Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho, Mauro Zarate and then Emmanuel Emenike, just didn’t do enough. Carroll, once fit, did make a contribution, especially with his hat trick over Arsenal, but largely the forward line lacked bite and a killer touch, and subsequently the team had to rely too much on Payet for goals. A number of potential additions have been circulated, but time will tell and whomever comes in will be expected to do a whole lot better, especially if the Hammers spend £30m on one player.
It is fair to say that Bilic and the team were possibly too reliant on the Frenchman. When he was out injured, the team struggled and once he returned, West Ham picked up. The Hammers averaged 0.9-goals-per-game without Payet compared to two goals per game with him in the side. Equally their win percentage also dropped from 53.8% to 25% in his absence.
His trickery on the ball, the way he draws defenders in when he attacks make him the stand-out player, but West Ham will hope that others around Payet and any new signings, will hopefully take any pressure off the 29-year-old and allow him even more freedom to express his edge-of-the-seat talents.