Heading into April of last season, West Ham United were just a point away from fourth spot. However, a string of poor results allowed Manchester United and Southampton to leapfrog the Hammers, subjecting Slaven Bilic's men to a seventh-placed finish in the league.
The club from east London put forth an exciting brand of football throughout the season, and fans started to believe that the side may finally be able to qualify for Europe's premier club competition.
It was a season of many surprises, none being more astonishing than Leicester City's title win, as well as Tottenham Hotspur's title challenge. Such an uncertain season gave Hammers fans even greater hope that the team might break into the top four.
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But just when the team needed to rise to the occasion, they crumbled, managing to win just three of their last nine matches.
In such a competitive league, which is set to become even more competitive next season, West Ham fans might feel that 2015/2016 might have been their best chance of clinching a Champions League spot.
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Increased Competition Next Season
Unfortunately for the Hammers, the 2016/2017 season is going to be even more competitive than the previous season, especially due to the arrival of multiple world class managers to the league.
Chelsea have appointed two-time Serie A winner Antonio Conte as their manager, while Jose Mourinho was recently announced as the new gaffer at Old Trafford.
Another high profile manager to grace the league next season is two-time Champions League winner Pep Guardiola, who is set to take the reigns at Manchester City.
The above three clubs were far from their best during the previous campaign, and the addition of the aforementioned managers is expected to thrust these Premier League giants back into the fold for title contention.
Last year's top three, Leicester, Arsenal and Spurs will all look to improve on the previous season's results, making it even harder for West Ham.
If it was not already tough for Bilic's men, Ronald Koeman's expected move to Everton is likely to spark a revival of sorts at Goodison Park, as the Toffees will aim to get back into the mix for European spots.
Even in the absence of the Dutch manager, Southampton still have enough quality and experience to challenge for the top eight spots, having finished above the Hammers last season.
Also, let's not forget Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side, who finished just two points behind the Hammers, and will surely be one of the strong contenders for the third and fourth Champions League spots, if not the first two.
Considering the immense competition the Hammers are set to face next season, the club not only need to add quality players to their squad, but also keep the existing ones.
Danger of losing key Players
Bilic has managed to put together a formidable team at the club, with recognized and capable players occupying each position on the field.
Mark Noble's leadership as well as Cheikhou Kouyate's immense presence in midfield, provided the ideal base from which to launch attacks.
However, it is the club's attacking players that made the difference last season.
The combination of Michail Antonio, Dmitri Payet and Enner Valencia has been the main reason for West Ham's great attacking prowess.
On their day, Payet and Antonio could tear any defense to shreds with their pace and trickery, whereas Valencia offers a versatile option up front, switching with Andy Caroll and Diafra Sakho occasionally for the main striker position.
Payet and Valenica have already set off Euro 2016 and the Copa America on fire respectively, diverting the attention of the world onto these promising players.
In order to mount a serious challenge for the top four spots next season, it is imperative that West Ham hold onto the above key attacking players, not only because of their abilities, but also the existing chemistry between them.
Qualification for the Europa League could provide the Hammers with some leverage in luring quality players to east London, and with the defense being arguably the club's Achilles heel, the Croatian manager will look to strengthen the back four.
But the Hammers can be rest assured that other top teams will also be looking to reinforce their squads in preparation for the new season.
Considering the fact that they got so close to the top four last season, the club will be aiming for a higher finish next time around.
Under Bilic, West Ham have seen massive improvements in their game play, as well as league position, managing seventh place last season, therefore fans will hope that the improvement continues.
Bilic's side need to learn from their previous mistakes, and the manager needs to instill a championship winning mindset at the club, something Claudio Ranieri was able to achieve at the King Power Stadium.
The players need to believe that they belong among the elites, instead of settling for the Europa League spots. That winning mentality could be a key factor in the club's bid to clinch Champions League qualification.
In Bilic, West Ham certainly have a manager capable of challenging for the top spots.
The resurgence of perennial league winners Chelsea, United and City could pose a threat to the Hammers' ambitions, but Leicester's incredible feat last season will provide the Hammers with fresh hope.
Should West Ham United be aiming for Champions League football? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!
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