Another impressive away win for West Ham United on Saturday evening has raised the question of their ability to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
The Hammers caused the surprise of the opening weekend of the new season when they travelled across the capital to the Emirates Stadium, to face an Arsenal side many believed had their best chance of winning the title since their last triumph in 2004. Typically, they then lost at home to Leicester City, and their UEFA Europa League campaign has ended already.
Perhaps their exit from Europe may prove a blessing in disguise, as it at least ensures they will avoid a congested fixture list. And despite losing at home to Bournemouth a week after the Foxes triumphed in East London, they have bounced back with first win against Liverpool at Anfield since 1963 courtesy of goals from Manuel Lanzini, Mark Noble and Diafra Sakho.
Slaven Bilic’s side resumed their league campaign following the recent international break with a fairly routine home win against Newcastle United, and this teed them up for the trip to Manchester City this weekend. Despite falling to Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, the Blues had won all their previous five Premier League games without conceding a single goal.
Yet Manuel Pellegrini’s team were stunned inside six minutes when Victor Moses fired past Joe Hart from 25 yards, and they doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark when Sakho bagged his second of the season. Although City pulled one back the Hammers managed to hold on, lifting them to third in the table and sparking talk of a possible top-four finish come May.
“Hopefully,” replied Bilic when asked of his side’s top-four chances. “But you would be the first one to say before the season that this would be impossible. But still, just six games have gone. We have to maintain, we have to improve. There are going to be ups and downs. But we just have to continue working every day of training and every game. Then we have a chance.”
Bilic is right to point out the fact that only six games of a 38-game season have been played, and there are sure to be a number of significant twists and turns ahead. And in the past we have seen teams outside of the usual top-four challengers make a bright start, only to fall away at the business end or even before; Southampton, last term, being the most recent example.
At the same time, the most optimistic of Hammers fans will reason that there are no genuinely outstanding teams in the division this season, with the possible exception of City who they have just beaten. The other side of that particular coin, though, is that the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and even second-placed Manchester United are sure to improve over time.
But if West Ham can maintain their form and continue to collect points to secure an unlikely top-four position, the addition of Champions League football when they move into the Olympic Stadium next season would be one of the most remarkable stories of recent years.