Many are predicting West Ham’s relegation this season | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Even for a club long committed to shooting itself in the foot, this summer has been an unhappy one at West Ham United.
The cautious optimism generated by the post-restart form that secured their survival has nigh on vanished amongst the supporters. While scoring goals has not generally been an issue, an alarming 62 were conceded last season and defensive reinforcements were desperately required.
Despite the desperate pursuit of James Tarkowski, there have been no fresh arrivals on the eve of the new season.
It remains unlikely that James Tarkowski will move to East London | Pool/Getty Images
Alongside this, the sale of promising winger Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion has prompted uproar from fans and players alike; club captain Mark Noble voiced his disgust on Twitter, backed by Declan Rice and Jack Wilshere. For many, it was the latest in a series of baffling decisions made by the owners. While it could be argued funds were needed to strengthen the squad and West Ham are already stocked with wingers, the decision has gone down badly at a club which prides itself on developing homegrown talent.
So, no new arrivals in a team that narrowly avoided relegation last year, the continued meddling of the unpopular owners and a run of early season fixtures that is likely to leave the Hammers bottom by Halloween. All signs point towards what many neutrals would view as an overdue and popular relegation.
However, all hope is not lost. West Ham still have the core of a good team – the midfield duo of Rice and Tomáš Souček is a significant upgrade on recent years, while Jarrod Bowen has settled in well since arriving from Hull City in January. The numerous enigmatic attackers cannot all be awful at once. Issa Diop remains a work in progress, but Angelo Ogbonna had his best season in east London last year and will marshal the defence.
Tomas Soucek has proven an inspired Moyes signing | Pool/Getty Images
Above all, they have David Moyes. While some may say he often stands like an inert Moe Szyslak on the touchline, powerless to change games tactically and making timid substitutions, the Scot has done an underrated job on his return to the London Stadium.
Two years ago, he transformed Marko Arnautovic into one of the league’s most potent attackers and has now repeated the trick with Michail Antonio. The barrelling forward has been rejuvenated under Moyes and was the league’s top scorer post-restart, although much depends on his infamously tight hamstrings.
Moyes is widely lampooned across social media, but has shown tentative signs of the wider strategy West Ham have lacked for decades. He has frequently stated his wish to target ‘young and hungry’ players rather than continue the policy of becoming a retirement home for every injury-prone, ageing and expensive footballer known to man. While this seems like common sense to most, this is a staggering step for West Ham.
Hammers manager David Moyes is reportedly keen to use the funds generated by the sale of Grady Diangana on a new centre-back.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) September 4, 2020
In truth, West Ham cannot aspire to much more than mere survival while the current owners are in charge. Rumours that David Sullivan and David Gold will look to sell the club in 2023 indicate Hammers fans are no closer to reclaiming their beloved club.
The only hope is that relegation, the inevitable result of years of mismanagement, can be held off until then. The prospect of Championship football at the London Stadium should provoke horror.
Championship football at the London Stadium would be cataclysmic for West Ham | Pool/Getty Images
The worst thing that could happen would be the board panicking after a dreadful start, sacking Moyes, and ending up relegated. The best chance of survival lies in sticking with the Scot and allowing him the chance to build on last season’s tentative signs of progress. Whether that will happen at West Ham – a club that resembles an asylum run by its inmates – remains to be seen.
The match against Newcastle already looks crucial. Lose, and West Ham face the prospect of needing to pick up points against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City before the clocks go back. Slow starts have been common in recent years and perspective must be maintained – it will be the form against other relegation candidates that will decide the Hammers’ fate.
While Saturday’s game is not must-win, it is certainly already a must-not-lose.