West Ham travel to Manchester United this weekend having unexpectedly earned status among the Premier League’s great entertainers of this fledgling campaign, but some caution ought to be exercised when analysing Sam Allardyce’s apparent about-turn.
The performance against Liverpool last Saturday evening was one of real quality and their opening salvo proved too much for the visitors to withstand, with West Ham streaking into a two-goal lead after seven breathless first-half minutes.
Allardyce and his charges have been praised to the hilt for this 3-1 triumph over last season’s runners-up, and it was a performance deserving of much of the acclaim it has received given the manner of the victory and the calibre of the opposition.
A long way to go
But it was only one win. It is certainly a good platform from which the Irons can launch their season in earnest, but the fanfare that came as a result of these three points has been embarrassingly overblown. Allardyce will have enjoyed this moment in the sun, so rare have they been, but even he must have felt a little uncomfortable by the post-Liverpool fuss.
Before beating Liverpool, West Ham had lost all three of their games at the Boleyn Ground this term, including a defeat to Sheffield United in the League Cup, and had recorded victory only once in five outings across all competitions.
Their solitary win had come away at Crystal Palace, and they were arguably as impressive that day as they were against Liverpool, but they way in which they capitulated against Southampton a week later should be an indication of how fatuous it could be to believe the hype having beaten the Merseysiders.
Failure to make home advantage count and the inability to find a late goal at Hull meant the game against Liverpool represented something of a must win, given that the following encounter would be away at Manchester United. Had they not been able to get a result, then Allardyce would have been balancing his hefty frame on a tightrope ahead of the trip to Old Trafford.
All this excitement is verging on the ridiculous and these glowing assessments of West Ham ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. Two wins in six matches is hardly the type of form to get carried away with, and the West Ham pessimists, of which there are many, will be wary of indulging in the eulogies of their team.
Public opinion will fluctuate over the course of the season with the wider perception of each team significantly influenced by the analysis of Gary Neville or even the far less charismatic pundits on Match of the Day. It is West Ham’s turn to earn the plaudits, but things will inevitably change.
Just look at Tottenham. Two weeks into the season and Mauricio Pochettino had already implemented his ideals to the optimum, with Tim Sherwood and his gilet immediately consigned to the annals of White Hart Lane history. But less than a month on and Spurs were a side incapable of scoring, bereft of creativity and well behind in the race for the coveted top four.
If there’s any team West Ham supporters would not want to end up like, it’s Spurs. They will be minded, then, not to invest too heavily in all this needless, but somewhat inevitable, hullabaloo one good result can bring.
Reasons for optimism
But there are certainly reasons for optimism at round Upton Park. There has been a marked change in their attacking fluidity, ability to find a finish and a clear instruction to shoot more regularly is producing results.
This may sound like a simple tactic, but it has paid dividends so far. Only Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal have scored more goals this season, while four successes from outside the box already has equalled West Ham’s tally for the entirety of last term.
They are, then, certainly capable of stringing together two wins in succession for the first time since March, particularly given the defensive crisis that is currently being endured by their opposition this weekend.
Marcos Rojo is the only available first-team centre-back and will be playing in this position for the first time since joining Manchester United, but who will partner the Argentina international is far from certain.
The most likely candidates are Daley Blind, who is more recognised as a midfielder or full-back, or even Tom Thorpe, who has yet to make an appearance for the Manchester United senior side. So desperate is Louis van Gaal for numbers that Paddy McNair, a relative unknown, could be promoted from the under-21s.
Regardless of the confidence gained from the win against Liverpool, there have been few greater opportunities for West Ham take maximum points from Old Trafford. But any triumph would still be viewed as a bonus come the business end of the season, and these hypothetical points will not have been in Allardyce’s plan for the campaign.
There will be far more important fixtures to come and it will be these rather than unexpected scalps that will prove the acid test for this vibrant West Ham team.
If they can emerge from the middle of October with two further victories against sides they would be expected to beat in Queens Park Rangers and Burnley, then real evaluations of their long-term prospects can begin to be drawn.