How West Ham United is stepping up to join the big boys
Once notoriously flaky under pressure, they are now a ‘team unafraid of the hardest work’
The Czech energy billionaire Daniel Kretínsky was among those present on Sunday to watch West Ham take on Liverpool, said Henry Winter in The Times. What he saw “was a perfect advertisement for the club he is considering investing in”: not only was there a great atmosphere at the London Stadium, but the afternoon was capped by a thrilling 3-2 victory, which took David Moyes’s team to third in the Premier League, three points behind leaders Chelsea.
West Ham were undoubtedly assisted by Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Alisson, who endured an uncharacteristically torrid afternoon, said Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. They also benefited from one or two questionable refereeing decisions. But, overall, “the better team won on the day”: West Ham were simply more resilient and determined than their opponents. Once notoriously flaky under pressure, they are now a “team unafraid of the hardest work”.
Since becoming their manager in 2017, Moyes has turned West Ham into a side of “discernibly Moyesian virtues”, said Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian. Superbly well organised, they frustrate opponents by “sitting deep and absorbing pressure”. Yet when opportunities arise, they are adept at deploying the “surging counter-attack”.
They also “make the most of what they have” – a prime example being set pieces. While some top sides are rather snooty about set plays – seeing them as “an adjunct to the real business of holding possession” – West Ham have doggedly focused on this area: they’re now the Premier League’s foremost dead-ball exponents. Last season, they scored 16 goals from set plays – the most of any team – and the value of the strategy was again clear on Sunday, two of their goals being scored that way.
This match marks a new development in Moyes’s team, said Jeremy Wilson in The Daily Telegraph. Last season, they finished only two places off Champions League qualification – but largely as a result of their “relentless consistency against those clubs around and below them”. Sunday’s win over Liverpool, by contrast, “was a victory against one of the best teams in the world”, one that arrived in east London hoping to set a new club record of 26 undefeated matches in all competitions.
The big question is whether West Ham are contenders for more than just a Champions League place, said BBC Sport. Leicester’s title win in 2015-16 showed remarkable things can happen when “everything comes together” at a club. West Ham have much in common with that Leicester team: an “astute manager” with a knack for getting the most out of his players; and a group of players who are “clearly fighting for each other in every game”. What a “closely fought and unpredictable title battle” this is shaping up to be.