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West Ham Survived To Thrive In The Premier League

Jesse Lingard of West Ham United is congratulated by team mates Ryan Fredericks, Tomas Soucek and Said Benrahma after scoring his second goal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on February 03, 2021 in Birmingham, England.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

West Ham's eight-year stay in the Premier League almost came to an end last season. The Hammers battled against the drop for nearly the entire campaign, and finally secured salvation with only two matches to spare. After a mid-season managerial change from Manuel Pellegrini to the immortal David Moyes, just staying up was the only goal; in January of 2020, it was reported that the club considered it an "absolute necessity" financially to stay in the Premier League. Though it did eventually accomplish that, it's fair to say that 2019–20 was a poor season for the London side. Fast forward to now, though, and West Ham has become one of the best stories in the league. What a difference six months can make.

After Saturday's disappointing but not crippling 0–0 draw to Fulham, West Ham has already equaled its points tally from all of last season (39), in 15 fewer matches. The Hammers currently sit in sixth place in the table, albeit with two more matches played than seventh-place Everton, but that the club is even in contention for a European competition slot in February is a testament to its resurgence. The wild thing is that the Hammers aren't particularly elite at any aspect of the game. Hell, their top scorer is Tomas Soucek, a defensive midfielder. The club is solidly middle of the pack in goals scored and conceded, and the only real stat that it has a claim to is times hitting the woodwork (15, most in the league). West Ham is simply grinding out results, in a season where that has become a rarity.

The side has already won one more game than it did all of last season, but more importantly, it has only lost six matches, and all of them to the supposed Big Six, aside from an opening day loss to Newcastle. Most impressively, West Ham drew both Tottenham and Manchester City in back-to-back matches in October. Aside from those defeats against more moneyed teams, the Hammers have made a killing from beating their fellow mid-table sides, as well as the bottom dwellers.

The last win of that kind came just days before the staid draw against Fulham, against another surprising side that barely escaped relegation last season. Last Wednesday, West Ham beat the pants off of Aston Villa, thanks to new loanee Jesse Lingard, who came over from Manchester United on January 29 and scored a brace in his West Ham debut.

Villa is no joke, but against West Ham, the Lions were rendered impotent by Moyes's solid gameplan and Lingard's individual brilliance. The Hammers allowed their opponents the bulk of the possession—57 to 43 percent—but made up for it by bombarding the Villa goal with 20 shots, and 10 on target (Villa, in comparison, had nine and two, respectively). That tracks with their season average of 44 percent possession, to go with 13 shots per game. In other words, West Ham lets other teams control matches while still getting in the lion's share of the attempts on goal.

It's not the worst recipe for a side that doesn't have a true star—though Lingard could change that. He became a bit of a meme at Manchester United, but he's still a very good player, and West Ham should be able to work to his strengths as a creative and goalscoring force. Elsewhere, the club has Soucek playing out of his mind, English youngster Declan Rice roaming the midfield, and Michail Antonio providing burly minutes in the center forward position. There are good players here, deployed by Moyes in ways not to maximize their talents so much as minimize their weaknesses. Sometimes, that's enough to win ugly. Three points are three points, no matter what.

That plan can still backfire if opponents shut down any and all shooting opportunities, though, as was the case on Saturday. Fulham had 61 percent possession but, more importantly, held West Ham to just one shot on target through 90-plus minutes. Fulham is tougher than its current place on the table—18th—would lead one to believe, so holding on to a 0–0 draw on an off day isn't the end of the world for West Ham. Just as it has all season, the team avoided costly mistakes and grabbed a valuable point away from home.

Where do the Hammers go from here? It's possible that they could continue pushing for Europe, given the inconsistencies around them. The only club below them on the table that you could confidently say should pass them is Tottenham, and Spurs might be going into full José Mourinho doldrums, so that's not a certainty. Everton has been good, not great, so far, but it has enough talent to give West Ham a run for its money. Villa also can't be counted out, not after beating Arsenal on Saturday and while Jack Grealish is still around.

That's all beyond the point, though. For a club that was in real danger of slipping into the Championship as late as round 36 last season, West Ham's spot in the top six is a deserved surprise. If it can keep getting results where it should, there's no reason to believe that anything but success is in its future.

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