West Ham's Champions League hopes would not be possible without Slaven Bilic

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With Leicester City on the brink of potentially the greatest underdog triumph in the history of British sport, you could be forgiven to forget the admirable feats that other clubs are achieving during this stunning 2015/16 Premier League season.

The Foxes more than deserve the heaps of praise coming their way as they march towards their first Premier League trophy in their history. What is being achieved at the King Power stadium is something we may rarely see ever again. It is a dream that is ever closer becoming a reality after Claudio Ranieri's men went five points clear with eight games to go following a 1-0 win over Newcastle on Monday night.

Yet there is a club just four places below that are also performing way above their own expectations, not quite on the epic proportions of Leicester, but stunning nonetheless. West Ham are currently two points behind fourth place Man City after winning their last three games as we reach the home straight of the season.


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The form of Slaven Bilic's men is on par with the top two, Leicester and Tottenham and with City's recent performances being as inconsistent as their season, a Champions League berth could be within reach.

"West Ham's season keeps getting better and better and I think they are as fit, strong and athletic as any team in the league," said BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson.

"We know that because they keep coming back in away games when they have been under the cosh, and they have got some unsung players in their squad - Mark Noble never gets the credit he deserves.

"West Ham are not getting any mentions when it comes to the title race. I don't think they are going to win it but they have put themselves in the frame for the top four."

Indeed, after Leicester's incredible form, the title looks well out of reach for West Ham, yet a top four place looks increasingly likely and there have been several star performers that have helped the Hammers reach where they are.

The most obvious player is the classy Dimitri Payet, who is fast becoming a contender for player of the year as his inspired and consistent form is leading West Ham's charge. Payet's worth to Bilic's team is, without doubt, becoming invaluable.

The Frenchman has scored eight goals, with seven assists along the way. What's more, Payet boasts an average of 3.7 key passes per game - second behind Mesut Ozil - as well has producing 2.5 crosses (also second behind Ozil) and 2.5 dribbles per game. The threat the summer signing from Marseille carries from all angles makes him a player of superb astuteness and versatility.

For all the right reasons, Payet's stock has risen considerably as he seems to have taken to the Premier League with considerable ease. However, amongst the flair that the French international brings, along with fellow summer recruit Manuel Lanzini, the steel and energy brought in the midfield is also something that should not go unnoticed.

Captain Mark Noble is a man that bleeds West Ham through and through. The 28-year-old has made over 300 league appearances for his boyhood club and is now the longest current serving player at Upton Park.

Amongst the several impressive seasons that Noble has produced in recent years, the control and consistency that the man from Canning Town brings to the West Ham midfield is of paramount importance. Noble is the architect in the middle for the Hammers and his partnerships with Cheikhou Kouyaté and Alex Song in breaking up and controlling play could be vital to his team's European hopes.

Yet, the mastermind behind West Ham's success is Bilic. He is a man who was on West Ham's radar ever since the unrest of Sam Allardyce's style of football reached boiling point. Former Liverpool striker Stan Collymore believes the Croatian deserves all of the credit that comes his way.

"Many people thought Bilic would struggle at Upton Park, that he wasn’t ready for the Premier League but, having locked horns with him during our playing days, I always felt he had what it takes to succeed here," said Collymore in his column for the Daily Mirror.

"He knows what it’s like to work in a volatile football environment, having worked with Besiktas, so he’ll be able to handle pretty much anything. What Bilic has done at West Ham is create a very, very good spine."

The spine that Bilic has created, from goalkeeper Adrian and defender Angelo Ogbonna - also a summer signing - to the likes of Noble and Payet, who provide the energy and creativity, to the finishing qualities of Diafra Sakho, has transformed West Ham from a team chasing a top ten finish to a side that are pushing very hard for a place in the Champions League.

The ambition and change in mentality at West Ham has been something quite commendable in itself. And with the Hammers moving to the Olympic Stadium next year, it would be an ideal venue for West Ham's first Champions League encounters.

Still, there is plenty of work to do in order to qualify and Bilic's men will have to be at their very best to secure what would be a sensational achievement.

What West Ham are doing may be overshadowed by Leicester's miracle season, yet one thing is for sure, a Champions League place for the Hammers would sum up what a crazy season this has been. And if they do get there, no one can say they haven't deserved it.

Alex Song
Premier League
Mark Noble
Andrew Carroll
West Ham United

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