After a convincing 2-0 win against Watford, West Ham have a new direction and goal: Make it to Europe. With eyes fixated on the relegation zone, and it still being closer than the Europa League playoff spots, West Ham need to focus on the positive while pulling away from the negative. With 30 points and a position of twelfth in the Premier League West Ham are only four points out of the relegation zone and six away from the second playoff spot for Europe.
Zabaleta: “To be good enough to look up and fight for European qualification or something like that, you need more consistency to give yourselves that chance. The reality is we are only four points above the relegation zone.”
How Can West Ham Move Up?
The answer to this is simple, stay motivated. The first step was taken against Watford, securing all the points against lower half opposition. The next step is being hard to play against, and will have to be taken in two weeks time at Liverpool.
West Ham have it in them under manager David Moyes, to keep the big clubs in check and defend from the middle out. With a heartbreaking late loss to Chelsea 2-1, a nil-nil draw with Arsenal, and a 1-0 win over Chelsea all in succession West Ham have the discipline to minimize mistakes and take advantage of opportunities afforded. Moyes has made this his calling card so far – play your role, run hard, and West Ham get points.
What Zabaleta’s quote shows is that this season is going to have suspense all the way to the final day. With the bottom half of the table all so close, seizing points when they are available is crucial. Boring, counter attacking, defensive minded football against opponents like the impending Liverpool may not be the most fun to watch, however if it leads to European football, no one will be complaining.
To take the next step, and grasp the consistency Zabaleta talks about the team needs to drop any personal efforts and do what is best for the team.
Biggest Boon To Moving Up
The most important aspect of West Ham succeeding in their late season push for Europe may be this dreaded two week waiting period for the team and its supporters. Not in Champions League, or the FA Cup, West Ham will have nothing but time to get healthy and in game shape.
West Ham can look to their development squad for game time for two notable defenders: Jose Fonte and Winston Reid. In their absence Ogbonna, Cresswell, Collins and Reid have done well to keep West Ham in the points, but their added experience and depth will make this an easier effort moving forward. Fonte was well enough to make the bench, and will need game time to get back to game shape, while Rice is still a little ways away. Regardless, both will be fully taking advantage of the time off to drill back into Moyes’ formation.
The break means that West Ham also have get Lanzini back for more matches. Originally forecast at six weeks, the attacking dynamo has since been on the mend at a more rapid pace. The break means less intensity for him to come back quick, and more training time to ease back into action.
Liverpool drew Porto in Champions League and will only have a shortened nine day break opposed to West Ham’s fourteen. Every advantage needs to be taken, and West Ham can invest more time into one opposing team rather than dividing it among two.
Can They Do It?
I think the answer here is yes. With Chicharito and Marko Arnautovic showing they can play together, the striker force up top is deadly. Should Lanzini return for Liverpool, his play-making ability in attacking midfield adds another dimension to the squads attack. Joao Mario would likely slot in beside captain Mark Noble in central midfield, a more natural position for him, and Kouyate would slide to the bench.
Kouyate’s likely bench demotion comes at a time when West Ham have seen him playing at an elevated level. For the club this is not a bad thing; West Ham have been shallow for midfield options all season, having him fit and in form, able to sub on for second half help is a massive boost for the club.
West Ham need to capitalize on their chances when they get them, like they did against Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool, while unrelenting in world-class attack, are very loose on defense. Despite the addition of Virgil Van Dijk, their back line still looks jumbled and unorganized at times. Arnautovic, Chicharito, and Lanzini can exploit this and help and propelling West Ham forward.
With a varied schedule after Liverpool, including Burnley and Manchester United, West Ham cannot afford to backdown from Liverpool in hopes of securing points in the games to follow. If they keep getting points the relegation zone will not be the focus, but rather European football will be. The tools are all on the squad, and the rest comes at a massively important time for the club, all that is left is to execute the game plan.
Come On You Irons!