Europe English Premier League

Are West Ham Set to Upset the Big Six?

David Moyes was used to be the butt of many football jokes, thanks to his unsuccessful tenures at Manchester United, Real Sociedad, and Sunderland. But now, not anymore. The Scotsman is now back at his best that we’ve last seen during his reign in Everton all those years ago, turning West Ham United from relegation candidates to possibly one of the most exciting European sides this season.

Sunday’s Premier League action saw Moyes’ West Ham side put an end to Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season, with the Hammers edging out the Reds 3-2 at the London Stadium. The win would ensure that West Ham would leapfrog Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to third in the league table, only three points behind leaders Chelsea.

West Ham are also performing decently on the European front, currently leading their Europa League group with three wins and a draw from four matches. A spot in the knockouts has been guaranteed, but West Ham’s next two games would determine whether they would qualify straight into the round of 16 or they would have to fight it out through the preliminary knockouts first.

And to think, just a few years ago, the Hammers were scraping a 16th placed finish in the league.

Since returning to West Ham in the second half of the 2019/20 season, Moyes had overseen quite the transformation of fortunes. Sure much-maligned owners David Gold and David Sullivan are still at the East London-based club, but Moyes had been shrewd with his player acquisition and tactics, reintroducing the devastating combination of a disciplined defense and fast counterattacks that had made Everton into a dangerous side in the first decade of the 21st century.

While Moyes would regret that he allowed Sebastien Haller to leave West Ham for the pastures of Ajax Amsterdam – the Ivorian having quite the season at the Dutch giants as we speak – as well as allowing Jesse Lingard to return to Manchester United without making his loan deal permanent, but three players that Moyes have brought in during his second reign have proven to be key components in the Hammers’ recent rise.

Czech duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal along with Algerian winger Said Benrahma have played pivotal roles in West Ham’s extraordinary 2020/21 season, where they recovered from losing their first two games to finish 6th in the league. Soucek struck up an excellent partnership with talisman Declan Rice in the middle of the park, while Coufal provided some extra sense of security from the wing-backs. Last but not least, Benrahma – who was decent for Brentford in their constant promotion pushes – provided pace down the flanks.

Bringing in Soucek on loan at the start of his tenure, as well as making his contract permanent before the 2020/21 season starts, has proven to be a masterstroke on Moyes’ part, as well as bringing Lingard on loan from United to reinforce the midfield. Moyes may have failed to retain Lingard in his squad but he did bring two quality signings to strengthen West Ham ahead of the 2021/22 season – Kurt Zouma, fresh from winning the Champions League with Chelsea, was brought in to enhance the defense further, while the task of dictating play alongside Rice and Soucek fell into the hands of former CSKA Moscow playmaker Nikola Vlasic, who was brought in to replace Lingard.

Moyes also managed to retain the services of Rice, who was practically hunted by England’s elite teams in every transfer window, while managing to bring the best out of the likes of Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Fornals, Michail Antonio, and Jarrod Bowen.

While Moyes’ emphasis on counters and set-pieces didn’t work out at United, said tactics are well-understood by the West Ham players. The Hammers had scored 32 goals from set-pieces since the start of Moyes’ second tenure at the London Stadium, more than any other Premier League side.

West Ham had also amassed 65 points in Premier League matches played in 2021. To put into perspective how incredible this is, only two teams have amassed more points within 2021 – defending league champions Manchester City (80 points) and reigning European champions Chelsea (66 points).

Despite overseeing his side flying high up the Premier League table, Moyes decided to play humble, downplaying the likelihood that his West Ham side would be challenging for this year’s league title.

“I want to be really positive all the time, I would like to say that is what we can do but I don’t see that at the moment,” said Moyes as quoted from BBC Sport, “We missed out on Champions League football by two points – so why can we not be there? We are not getting carried away but it is feeling good at the moment.”

The 2015/16 Premier League season marked the last time the league title was won by anyone outside the established “Big Six” – a group consisting of United, Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur. That season saw Leicester City defy the odds and crowned champions after having barely escaped relegation the previous season.

Managed by Claudio Ranieri, the Leicester squad of 2015/16 shows how the unexpected can happen when the manager, the players, and team spirit all combine together into a single cohesive unit. The West Ham side of 2021/22 can draw parallels with that successful Foxes squad – in Moyes they have an astute manager who managed to regain his best years and drew the best out of his players, while the squad have shown a strong team spirit in each match, every player more than willing to fight for one another.

“Nobody expected Leicester to win the Premier League, so you never know, stranger things have happened,” said former Crystal Palace striker Clinton Morrison on West Ham’s recent rise, as quoted from BBC Sport, “It will be difficult because they need to add to their squad. At the moment, let these fans, and the manager and the players, enjoy the ride. It’s good times at West Ham at the moment.”

West Ham has faced four Big Six teams and they’ve done decently against them. The Hammers may have lost 2-1 at home to United in the league but they took revenge in the EFL Cup, eliminating the Red Devils on penalties in the competition’s third round at Old Trafford before City were subsequently eliminated on penalties as well in the next round. Tottenham were the third Big Six member that West Ham had faced this season, with the Hammers managing to plunder a 1-0 win over the Lilywhites at the London Stadium before Liverpool were handed their first league defeat of the season on Sunday.

Additionally, in the Europa League, West Ham had taken out Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 at their very own Maksimir Stadium, a daunting home ground where the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Serie A side Atalanta, Portuguese giants Benfica, and Scottish behemoths Glasgow Celtic have lost in recent years. This shows that West Ham are very much capable of taking on the toughest of opponents this season – a hallmark that all league champions must have.

It’s still early days, but Moyes’ West Ham could become the team to watch for this season. Should the Hammers clinch silverware this season, it’ll be the pinnacle of their rise in recent years.