Dimitri Payet the key to West Ham's Europa League hopes this season

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This Premier League season has been the most brilliantly unpredictable of all time. A complete lack of consistency from the traditionally dominant sudes and an influx of quality from top to bottom of the league have meant that nothing is guaranteed.

One club that has particularly benefitted from this shake up is West Ham. Currently occupying fifth and just one point behind London rivals Tottenham, they have excelled amongst the chaos.

New manager Slaven Bilic was particularly busy in the summer transfer window as he looked to redevelop the squad he inherited from Sam Allardyce. Carl Jenkinson and Manuel Lanzini arrived on loan deals while Nikica Jelavic, Angelo Ogbonna and Michail Antonio joined on a permanent basis.


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Yet the Hammers' biggest acquisition was attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet from Marseille on a five-year contract. In August, the France international made a seamless transition to the pace of the Premier League and has become a firm fan favourite.

Payet orchestrated fantastic away victories in the early months of the season at the Emirates, Anfield and the Etihad, setting alight England's top tier with his creativity, composure on the ball and quality from set pieces.

With West Ham flying high in the table, disaster struck on November 10 when an over-zealous challenge from Everton’s James McCarthy caught Payet's left ankle and confined him to two months on the treatment table.

In their playmaker’s absence, the Hammers' form experienced a notable dip. Bilic's side were thrashed 4-1 away at Tottenham before failing to score in their first three games of December. The spark and creativity that Payet had so often provided in the early stages of the season was now missing and points were gradually slipping away.

However, following his return to the starting line-up, Payet exhibited just how crucial his contribution is during Tuesday evening’s victory over Bournemouth.

When trailing 1-0, the Frenchman struck an inch-perfect free-kick past a hapless Artur Boruc in the 66th minute to level proceedings.

Having already contributed one piece of magic, Payet then ensured all three points would go to the away side with a sublime sequence of play. The first to react to the possibility of a quick throw-in, he collected the ball on the right-hand side, cornered by two Bournemouth defenders.

However, with one perfectly executed drag-back and nutmeg, the two defenders were left trailing in his wake as the attacking midfielder surged into the box and squared for Enner Valencia to fire home.

It was an inspired eight minutes from the playmaker which turned what would have been a demoralising away defeat into a rousing away win and showed the quality that West Ham fans have been missing.

In a Premier League season as tumultuous as this one, the east Londoners have a fantastic chance to at least secure Europa League football for next season. However, with the sheer inconsistency of all those around the summit of the table, a Champions League place is far from out of the question.

If Payet can stay fit and continue to produce moments of individual brilliance, West Ham will be a difficult team to beat both on the road and at home, amidst their last season at the Boleyn Ground.

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West Ham United
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