Ten games in, 17 points gained, 19 goals scored and sitting comfortably above Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United in the table.
West Ham United‘s record-equalling start to a Premier League campaign has been as impressive as it’s been unexpected, and after looking almost certain to be relieved of his duties after last season’s difficulties, Hammers boss Sam Allardyce has assumed his continental, tactically assured alter ego of Sammy Allardici to emphatically quell the doubters, masterminding his side to victory over both Manchester City and Liverpool, last year’s champions and runners-up.
The good times are indeed rolling at Upton Park, and a relatively kind fixture list leading up to Christmas could see the feelgood factor last for some time to come. But why are the Hammers defying all expectations?
1. Big Sam’s willingness to adapt
Big Sam’s persistence with a direct, agricultural style of play was the primary cause of his unpopularity among the Upton Park faithful last season. This was not the ‘West Ham way’, the fans argued, and even Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho decided to offer his two cents, bemoaning the ’19th Century football’ played by the Hammers in a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in January. It is true that the football was rarely pretty, and the 20 league games that the club lost did not make for nice reading. Though the London side managed to avoid relegation, it was a possibility throughout the season, and the prospect of playing in the Championship for the club’s inaugural campaign at the Olympic Stadium in 2016 would have been unthinkable for David Gold and David Sullivan, the club owners. Big Sam managed to cling onto his job in the summer on the condition that he adapted his methods to accommodate a more attractive and attacking style of play, and the message seems to have been hammered home to emphatic effect. West Ham’s passing football has been brilliant at times, and the manager deserves much credit for recognising the shortcomings of his old approach to the game. His side are certainly reaping the rewards.
2. Instant impact of new signings
West Ham’s transformation into a more aesthetically pleasing side has been facilitated by some inspired sigings, all of whom have taken very little time to fit into Allardyce’s system. Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho have instantly formed an effective striking partnership with the latter becoming the first West Ham player to score in six straight Premier League games, while fans still can’t quite believe that they have a player of Alex Song’s calibre displaying his midfield mastery at the Boleyn Ground. Elsewhere, the underrated French midfielder Morgan Amalfitano has impressed, as has the mercurial Mauro Zarate and the on-loan Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson. With the exception of Song, the relatively uncelebrated reputations of Allardyce’s signings prior to their arrivals – and the way in which they have subsequently taken to the Premier League by storm – makes a mockery of the transfer dealings of the divison’s bigger sides, who have spent big on supposedly established names, with not much to show for it.
3. Impressive strength in depth
Such has been the excellence of West Ham’s start that even Zarate – who was so exciting in the opening games of the season – can no longer find a place in the first team. This perhaps hints at the most encouraging aspect of the Hammers’ purple patch. The side has a strength in depth that has been absent in past seasons, and they now look better equipped than ever to aim for higher than a mid-table finish. Andy Carroll, their record signing just last season, will find it hard to displace Sakho and Valencia in attack, while club captain Kevin Nolan has even found playing time limited with Alex Song and Mark Noble dominating in midfield. They may come to regret selling Mohamed Diame to Hull City, who continues to show why he is one of the Premier League’s most underrated players. Nevertheless, if an extensive injury crisis can be avoided, there will be no regrets. Even without Diame, this is one of the strongest West Ham sides for many a year.
4. English core stepping up to the plate
Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan may not currently be contributing much to West Ham’s success, but the trio of Carl Jenkinson, Mark Noble and Stewart Downing certainly are, and this English core of defence, midfield and attack has been a key component of Allardyce’s side this season. Jenkinson has clearly been relishing an extended run in the first team which he did not have at Arsenal, while there have been growing calls for Noble and Downing to be considered for national team duty after their consistently excellent performances. Noble has formed an immediate rapport with Song in midfield and is enjoying the best years of his playing career, and Allardyce’s decision to move Downing inside as more of a no.10 than a winger has been inspired. After two tough seasons at Liverpool, Downing seems to have found his feet at West Ham, and his equalising goal against Stoke City last weekend – which he executed expertly with his weaker right foot – epitomised the 30 year-old’s new lease of life. If the Hammers’ English contingent continue like this, we may see Roy Hodgson in the Upton Park stands on a more regular basis.
5. Crowd’s renewed faith in manager
The renewed sense of optimism from the fans cannot be underestimated either. West Ham supporters had every right to voice their discontent at their team’s performances last season, but this was hardly going to inspire much hope and confidence in the beleagured players. However, by getting behind the side and the manager, there has been a marked increase in belief on the pitch – a belief of the players in their own abilities, a belief that even the Premier League champions and the runners-up can be overcome – which has contributed considerably to their astounding start. The bubbles are blowing bigger than ever at Upton Park, and if the fans continue to have faith in their side, there is no reason why West Ham’s success has to be shortlived.
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