West Ham can end a season of turmoil on a positive note
David Moyes has steered the club to the safe waters of Premier League survival. They face Manchester United on Thursday with an outside chance of finishing the season in the top half of the table
In a season marred by underachievement, manager upheaval, supporter unrest and player fallout West Ham United go into their penultimate game of the campaign relatively carefree.
Last week's 2-0 win over Leicester City secured Premier League football for David Moyes' side with two games remaining. The first of those - against Manchester United at home on Thursday - should be played out in a relatively hostile-free London Stadium that has seldom been the case this term.
West Ham's underwhelming end to the previous campaign saw them sleepwalk into this. Slaven Bilic knew the writing was on the wall long before his eventual departure at the start of November with a return of nine points from 11 games.
Moyes' appointment may have been viewed with a degree of scepticism by many who remembered ill-fated spells at United, Real Sociedad and more recently Sunderland, a club who limped out of the Premier League last season without so much as a whimper. But David Sullivan and David Gold, the co-owners so often the source of the fans' ire, saw in Moyes a man determined to restore a battered reputation.
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Their faith has been vindicated. Five points clear of relegation, Moyes has had to mastermind an escape based on quantity rather than quality. There are too few young legs of quality like Manuel Lanzini in the squad and too many older ones on the wane such as Danny Collins, Patrice Evra, and Pablo Zabaleta.
The first two will almost certainly be released this summer when the squad is in need of a major overhaul.
Top of the list should be securing a permanent move for impressive loanee Joao Mario from Inter Milan. A new goalkeeper - the club are almost certain not to exercise their option to turn Joe Hart's loan move from Manchester City into a permanent one - two new centre-backs, two new full-backs, an attacking midfielder and perhaps, if Andy Carroll no longer features in Moyes' plans, a centre-forward are also required.
But with the pressure off, there are reasons for quiet optimism that West Ham can end the campaign on a high note. Marko Arnautovic's aggression and commitment to the cause has endeared him to the Hammers faithful. Converted from a winger to a centre-forward, Arnautovic has bagged 10 league goals in his first season in East London.
To put that into context, no West Ham striker has scored more than 10 in a season since Bobby Zamora's 11 back in 2006/07. Arnautovic pushed for a move from Stoke City last summer despite signing a new four-year contract months earlier. Given Stoke's plight this term - rock bottom and relegated with three games left - no one could accuse the Austrian of lacking foresight.
Jose Mourinho criticised his fringe players following last Friday's shock defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion. But facing a Manchester United already assured of second place and with an FA Cup final date against Chelsea on May 19 no longer seems as daunting as it may have done for West Ham before the three points procured at Leicester.
United's players, particularly those headed with their countries to next month's World Cup in Russia, may already have their minds focused elsewhere.
Throw in the subplot of their own manager's quiet determination to get one over the club that discarded him just 10 months in to a six-year contract and the game has a tantalising feel of an upset. There is also an added incentive for West Ham to go all out and end the season on a positive: beat United on Thursday and Everton on Sunday, and the Hammers could even secure a top-10 finish if other results go their way.
Updated: May 9, 2018 11:31 PM