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It’s Time To Take West Ham Seriously

Jarrod Bowen of West Ham United celebrates after scoring their side's fourth goal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on October 31, 2021 in Birmingham, England.
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Though comprehensively beating the 15th-place team in the Premier League isn't anything particularly special, West Ham's 4–1 win away at Aston Villa was further evidence of something truly significant: Over the last year, West Ham has been the second-best club in the English capital. The Hammers have fully earned their current place in the upper echelon of the Premier League table, and they're showing no signs of giving it up any time soon.

Following Sunday's thrashing of its similarly uniformed brethren, West Ham currently sits fourth on the league table, level on points with the mighty Manchester City. Perhaps more relevantly, West Ham has been the third-best team in England in 2021. The Hammers' 62 points this calendar year puts them above Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham. That stat is a maroon-and-blue middle finger to anyone who'd try to call their run a fluke.

The Villa game is as good an example as any for why West Ham has thrived under—and I promise you this is actually the club's manager—David Moyes. Ben Johnson opened the Hammers' scoring seven minutes in, and it looked to be another one of those games for West Ham. In a plot twist, Villa's Ollie Watkins evened the score 27 minutes later, but the visitors didn't bend at all. Declan Rice, the do-it-all whirlwind in midfield, restored West Ham's advantage just four minutes later with a bouncing long-range effort that found the bottom corner:

Villa never really got back into the game after Rice's goal, especially not after going down a man when Ezri Konsa received a red card in the 50th minute. West Ham's center back pairing of Angelo Ogbonna and summer purchase Kurt Zouma kept the Villan attack at bay, and before the final whistle, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen chipped in goals to turn the scoreline from respectable to a beating.

If there's another way that the Villa game bodes well for West Ham, it's in the fact that the club has only gotten better as the season has worn on. Three of the four matches where the club dropped points came in the first five games of the year: a pair of draws against Crystal Palace and Southampton, and a last minute loss against Manchester United. In the subsequent five games, West Ham took care of lesser opponents, beating Leeds United, Everton, Tottenham, and now Villa. (The only loss in that period came to Brentford, which is fine because Brentford rocks.)

After Sunday's outburst, West Ham now has scored as many goals as City, tied for third in the league. The defense has been similarly staunch, allowing only 11 goals through 10 matches. The advanced stats back up those figures up, too. West Ham has just barely over-performed its xG and xGA, and its 20 points for the season are just above their expected count of 19, the third-highest expected point count in the league.

This isn't a weak team getting lucky, but rather a disciplined side with no real stars—though Rice has been playing like one this year—doing what it has to do to pick up points. Though he didn't score on Sunday, Michail Antonio gives West Ham a focal point in attack, and the 31-year-old is on pace for his best scoring Premier League season ever. His previous high in a campaign is 10 goals, and he already has six to go with three assists in nine appearances. Behind him, former Brentford star man Saïd Benrahma has shaken off a disappointing start to his West Ham career and has notch three goals and three assists so far this year.

Moyes has done wonders with this side since returning in the middle of the 2019–20 season, first guiding the club to safety from relegation and then jumping ten places on the table in his first full year, clinching Europa League qualification. (West Ham is obliterating its group there, with three wins in three matches and zero goals conceded.) Even last year's record points total might end up being an appetizer for what the club has in store for the near future.

The Premier League's title contenders are set in stone, with Liverpool, Chelsea, and City all set to battle it out for the top honor in the league. Below them, though, West Ham is as well-positioned as anyone to take the fourth spot and a Champions League berth. Manchester United is in trouble, Tottenham just parted ways with Nuno Espírito Santo after ten games, Arsenal is Arsenal, and Leicester City has been uncharacteristically poor to start the year. The Hammers have to be looking at the carnage around them and smiling. Wins like the one at Villa are the type that great clubs pull off routinely, and West Ham might just be a great club now. At the very least, there's nothing in the club's recent results that point to this success being an illusion.

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