The first half of the 2016-17 season was a difficult one for West Ham United, but Hammers fans can be optimistic that a recent upturn in results will push the team up the table and maybe even towards UEFA Europa League qualification.
As discussed by 888sport last month, there is the question of whether European football has a negative effect on domestic form, but you would rather your team have the chance to play in Europe, and Europa League qualification does help attract players.
If you had asked even the most confident of West Ham fans at the start of December about the team’s prospects you likely would have received a negative answer. A season that had begun in August with an opening defeat at Chelsea and elimination from the Europa League by Astra Giurgiu of Romania for the second season in a row didn’t augur well. A 5-1 home defeat to Arsenal on 3rd December laid bare the problems facing West Ham, but by Boxing Day we were celebrating a 4-1 win at Swansea City.
The move to the London Stadium has caused upheaval, certainly, but fans can be hopeful this will be ironed out, allowing us to focus on the performances on the pitch rather than what’s going on in the stands.
That seventh-place finish in the 2015-16 season was the culmination of a great first season under Slaven Bilic, and there is no reason to believe that West Ham cannot repeat it this season. However, the team will have to pull out all of the stops to get there, and the players need to be committed. The Dimitri Payet transfer saga has put a downer on the season, so the rest of the squad need to step up, with senior members leading by example.
The signing of José Fonte from Southampton is a positive, because he has bags of experience, and it has been to see Andy Carroll get a run free from injury. Carroll started just 13 league games last season, but the nine goals he scored shows how much of a threat he actually is.
The final weeks of the season are crucial. There are back-to-back games against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in May, but both are at home. The final game of the season is a tough one at Burnley, but before that, a run of four winnable games in April sees Swansea and Everton visit the London Stadium, and away trips to Sunderland and Stoke City.
Everton are our most likely rivals for a Europa League spot out of those four, although you can’t rule out Stoke. Swansea and Sunderland have been battling the drop all season, so will likely be fighting for their lives come April.
As we enter the business end of the season and the race for Europa League qualification hots up, one thing that us Hammers fans know is that the players have experience in their favour; they have been there before and know what it takes to push the team to a top-seven finish.