Coming off a brilliant run of results throughout Project Restart to keep themselves in the Premier League, nobody quite knew what to expect from West Ham when the 2020/21 season kicked off in September.
After losing their opening two league games of the new campaign, it looked like the Hammers might be set for another relegation scrap. However, they have responded in impressive style, losing just once in their next eight matches to move within a point of the top four.
So, how has David Moyes managed to turn things around in the East End?
West Ham ended last season with a wretched defensive record, conceding 62 goals as they escaped the drop by five points. So far, they have conceded just 11 times in ten matches. If they were to keep that up until the end of the campaign, they would let in 42 goals. Such a drastic drop in the average number of goals against West Ham shows Moyes has improved them defensively.
The arrival of Czech full back Vladimir Coufal has facilitated a switch to three at the back. With the 28-year-old at right wing back, a solid partnership has developed between central defenders Fabian Balbuena, Angelo Ogbonna and Aaron Cresswell.
West Ham’s improvement as a defensive unit is also down to the re-emergence of Arthur Masuaku, who looks settled again after starting nine successive games after managing just 17 appearances last term.
In the middle of the park, Declan Rice ranks in the top ten amongst Premier League midfielders for tackles and interceptions. The youngster snuffs out opposition attacks like a man grinding a cigarette into the ground – plenty of force but maintaining the air of someone who has done it countless times before.
The decision to sign Tomas Soucek, the man Jose Mourinho compared to Marouane Fellaini, looks an inspired one. His tireless energy while running box-to-box has helped the Hammers hugely in their transitional play, while his 6’4 frame always presents an extra aerial threat from set pieces.
Further forward, West Ham have not set the league alight with their attack. But they haven’t really had to do, because like Moyes’ Everton side in the late 2000s, each member of the team does their job responsibly and efficiently, so that the Hammers rarely have to drag themselves back into games.
On the one occasion where they reverted to their old habits for the first 20 minutes against Spurs, the squad had enough bottle and belief to dig deep and snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat in one of the most remarkable finishes to a Premier League game there has ever been.
Crucially, Moyes didn’t dwell on that result because he knew his side were second best for the majority of that contest. The Scot understood that for West Ham to win games consistently, they had to draw first blood. Credit must go to his players, who have allowed him to execute game plans centred on discipline and determination by fully committing to the cause.
Indeed, West Ham have led in every one their five games since they trailed 3-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, beating Fulham, Sheffield United and Aston Villa. They can also consider themselves unlucky to have picked up a solitary point from two matches against Manchester City and Liverpool, twice opening the scoring.
Whether West Ham can maintain a sustained challenge for European football remains to be seen, as just over a quarter of the season has been completed as we enter December. The table is ridiculously congested too, with only four points separating the fifth placed Irons from Crystal Palace in 15th.
Although it is a topsy-turvy season that has been very difficult to predict, one thing is for certain. If West Ham are able to consistently grind out wins when other top teams have been remarkably unpredictable, they will be in the mix for European qualification come the end of May.