Why 2019-20 is the Hammers’ best chance of Europa League qualification in years
West Ham United moved into seventh place in the English Premier League (EPL) table after their recent 2-0 home victory over newly promoted Norwich City. The Hammers were purring throughout at the London Stadium, with the home faithful treated to an exciting, attack-minded display, putting the Canaries firmly to the sword. With just one defeat in their opening four league games, West Ham are already on the coat tails of the top six.
Analysing the Premier League after four weeks of competition, the Hammers are considered most likely to finish eighth behind Everton and Leicester City. However, there’s plenty of football to be played between now and April. Skipper Mark Noble insisted that the win over Norwich was the best United have played for “a long time” and boss Manuel Pellegrini will certainly harbour ambitions to see his side push towards qualification for the Europa League in 2019-20. Certainly the Hammers have the best chance to squeeze into the top six this term, because of the following reasons:
Sebastien Haller offers a genuine attacking threat
25-year-old French striker Sebastien Haller was heralded as a landmark signing for West Ham in the summer. The French Ivorian signed for a club record fee of £45 million, placing enormous pressure and expectation on his shoulders as a result. Early indications suggest that Haller is more than prepared to handle it, bagging three goals in his opening three league appearances. Haller’s nous in front of goal came to the fore in the win over Norwich and his power and pace will certainly prove too hot to handle for most EPL defences.
Haller is a team player too. It’s not just about the goals he can score, it’s the goals he can create too. At former club, Eintracht Frankfurt, Haller was involved in 24 goals in 2018-19. With 15 goals to his name and nine assists, Haller proved that he can turn provider as well as goal scorer when necessary. The form of Haller also means that the team is not missing the presence of Marko Arnautovic as much as first feared, following his £22.5 million switch to the Chinese Super League.
Chelsea and Man United are very much teams in transition
There’s no doubt that Chelsea and Manchester United are two teams that are more likely to be focusing on finishing inside the top six rather than the top four this term. Both teams are nowhere near as strong as they used to be. Chelsea are obviously hamstrung in terms of player recruitment, having been hit with a transfer embargo by UEFA. New boss Frank Lampard is prepared to put his faith in young talent and Chelsea certainly have lots of that. Their academy is one of the most prolific in the country, but all too often foreign imports have stunted the development of these homegrown starlets. It’s possible that Lampard could mould a new-look Chelsea, but it may be that they have to bide their time and wait a season or two in the process.
Manchester United are in just as much transition as Chelsea. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying desperately hard to create a new identity and a winning mentality at Old Trafford following several seasons of underachievement. Solskjaer is another coach that appears to be keen to utilise academy prospects and young talent from smaller teams, instead of investing in “galactico” signings. Their 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace proved that this United team is still far from the finished article and West Ham will be hoping that their inconsistencies continues over the course of the season, opening the door to the Hammers to move in behind the top four.
Tottenham still overly reliant on star men
Tottenham Hotspur have been in excellent form over the last two or three seasons and have enjoyed sustained success in the league and in Europe. However, with their high-profile stadium switch, the club has had very little in the way of funds to strengthen and expand the squad. Spurs are still heavily reliant on striker Harry Kane and midfielder Christian Eriksen for goals and assists. Any injury to either of these star men could put paid to their aspirations for a top four finish and leave them vulnerable to the likes of West Ham and Everton.
Aside from Manchester City and Liverpool, the rest of the EPL seems wide open in 2019-20. If the Hammers can get fortunate with injuries and build on their early momentum, it could be a very memorable campaign for Pellegrini’s men.