West Ham and David Moyes were widely expected to take a step back this season. Losing Jesse Lingard after the star loan signing returned to Manchester United was thought to be a blow, while the commitment of European matches on Thursdays was also forecast to have an impact too.
But coming out of the November international break, the Hammers are third in the Premier League and just three points behind leaders Chelsea. Home defeats to Moyes’ old side Manchester United and Brentford have been the only low moments of a super start to the season, with West Ham winning their last four including a thrilling 3-2 defeat of Liverpool.
With West Ham also in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup – where they will face local rivals Tottenham – the club’s fans are in dreamland right now. So how far can David Moyes take West Ham?
Lessons learned from first spell
David Moyes is in his second spell at West Ham, of course, having not been given a new contract despite leading the club to survival in the 2018-19 season. The team were in the relegation zone when the Scot arrived, but they ended the season 13th, surviving with two games to spare.
During that period, however, Moyes did not have full control. Being on a short contract affected the input he was able to make but now he has been able to mould the club in his image. West Ham deserve some credit for acknowledging their error in letting David Moyes go and bringing him back at the first opportunity. Not only did the club’s board realise they had made a mistake, they handed Moyes the keys and allowed him to get on with the job, which is how he works best.
Moyes is a club-builder. That is why he was hand-picked by Alex Ferguson to succeed him at Old Trafford. It did not work out for Moyes in Manchester – he was clearly a bad fit for the club’s on-field philosophies – but in time he might have been able to create something there. It is worth noting that nobody else has done particularly well at United since Ferguson either. They are now mistakenly showing faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a far worse manager, in desperation instead.
Outstanding work at Preston North End and Everton is now long enough in the past that those in football with shorter memories have forgotten how Moyes carefully built his reputation over time. Long spells at both clubs saw them take large strides forward and he is undoubtedly the best manager either of those teams have had in the modern era – that is not even up for debate.
After failing at United, Moyes took a while to get his career back on track. Relegation with Sunderland will have stung, but the Black Cats had burned all their lives on previous miraculous escapes and dropping to the Championship was inevitable for them at some point. A jaunt to Real Sociedad was an admirable move for Moyes but the language barrier was tough to cross.
Sometimes a manager is just a better fit for a certain club. West Ham might not have noticed that at first, but this time out it is clear that David Moyes is right at home at London Stadium.
Third in the 2021 table
West Ham have consistently been among the league’s best teams all year. Indeed, a Premier League table for 2021 would show them in third place, behind Chelsea and Manchester City. David Moyes turning West Ham into title challengers was not something anyone would have predicted a couple of years ago. But there is an alluring momentum surrounding his team right now.
At some point, Moyes might have to try to decide where his priorities lie this season. West Ham were only two points away from qualifying for the Champions League last term and they have a three-point cushion to Arsenal in fifth. Getting into the Champions League could prove to be transformative for West Ham but Leicester City have shown the final step is a huge one to take.
Faced with the challenging Europa League schedule, many managers would happily drop out of cups early but West Ham have instead knocked both Manchester clubs out of the EFL Cup without even conceding a goal. West Ham have not been to a final since 2006 and their fans’ wait for a trophy has been a lot longer. Silverware would secure Moyes’ legacy at West Ham.
Qualification into the Europa League’s knockout rounds has already been secured and, if they go on to top the group, they will go straight through to the round of 16, earning a crucial breather. Winning the group means no commitments in Europe until March, easing fixture congestion.
The loss to injury of influential defender Angelo Ogbonna is a major blow and the lack of cover for striker Michail Antonio is surely going to be costly for West Ham at some point this season. They are in a position of strength to strengthen in the January transfer window, though, and David Moyes and the club’s fans should enjoy what is turning into a magical ride for West Ham.
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