Second chances don’t come along very often in football but for David Moyes, he will finally have the opportunity to kick on with West Ham after securing their Premier League status for the second time in his career.
When he steered the club to survival in 2017/18, he was replaced by Manuel Pellegrini. This time, after leading the club away from danger with some impressive post-restart form, Moyes has the chance to build on the foundations he established after taking on the role for a second time in December.
At his appointment, Moyes made some bold claims about his record and ability, as well as his intent to bring better times to the club. After passing the first hurdle of maintaining Premier League status, the focus for 2020/21 will now be on returning the club to the top half of the table and getting more out of this group of players.
With just one defeat in their final seven games of the season, West Ham finished in a fashion which raised questions over why they were near the drop zone in the first place. A thrilling derby win over Chelsea and a couple of big victories over Norwich and Watford eased them towards safety before a battling draw at Manchester United underlined their improvement.
After the final-day draw with Aston Villa, Moyes conceded he may have to work with what he’s got after the club spent big in previous transfer windows but there will be confidence around the club they already have plenty of handy tools at their disposal and can set their sights higher – if they can replicate their post-lockdown form next season.
Tomas Soucek – Slavia Prague, £15m
Albian Ajeti – Celtic, undisclosed
Anthony Scully – Lincoln, undisclosed
Jeremy Ngakia – Watford, free
West Ham scored six goals from dead-ball situations last season – only Liverpool achieved more. Robert Snodgrass assisted four of those, while Issa Diop netted all three of his league goals from these deliveries. But the arrival of Tomas Soucek – more on him below – also increased the Hammers’ threat from corners and free-kicks.
With West Ham not expected to make too many additions during this transfer window, maintaining what they do well already will be essential to building a better campaign this time around. Expect plenty of dead-ball work to be done at their east London training ground.
Only Aston Villa and relegated trio Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford conceded more goals last season and tightening up at the back is going to be crucial if West Ham have ambitions of competing higher up the table in 2020/21.
It was particularly damaging for them that many of the goals they let in came after they had got themselves into good situations in games. They lost 26 points from winning positions – that’s more than any other Premier League team last season.
Could switching Declan Rice to centre-back help? He would certainly add quality to the backline but replacing his attributes in defensive midfield may just shift a problem elsewhere. And besides, the team’s defending across the pitch appears to be an issue.
Moyes’ side ranked impressively for regaining possession in their defensive third but struggled to press from the front, suggesting a tendency to sit back and invite pressure.
Indeed, the Hammers conceded 57 goals from inside their box last season, a total only surpassed by Norwich.
Rice remains West Ham’s best player. He ranked among the top five players in the league for tackles and interceptions with his tireless performances in the centre of the park last season and it’s no wonder Chelsea are keen on signing their former academy kid.
But goals win games and finding a reliable scorer will be key to their potential push up the table. They’ve not had a player score more than 12 times in a Premier League season since their return to the top flight in 2012.
Could Michail Antonio step up and be that man? He was simply brilliant after the restart, scoring eight goals in nine games, including all four in the demolition of Norwich. Has the 30-year-old cracked what it takes to find the net in the Premier League consistently now? Or was that just a short burst during a purple patch. We’ll see…
West Ham may well have been clear of danger a lot sooner had they had January loan signing Soucek for the whole campaign. The marathon man – who posted some incredible running stats – has now signed permanently with the Hammers and fans will be eager to see him resume his brilliant box-to-box performances which gave the club a big boost after the restart.
With vital goals against Chelsea, Newcastle and Watford, Soucek underlined the threat he poses in the box – particularly from set-pieces – but he is also a strong defensive midfielder, with the athleticism and physicality to cover the ground in the middle of the park when West Ham are out of possession. At 25 years old, the Czech Republic international is entering his prime and could be set for an impressive first full season in England.
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