Will West Ham struggle with European football this season?
West Ham secured their best Premier League finish for 14 years last season. The Hammers finished sixth in the Premier League after an impressive 2020/21 top-flight campaign.
Due to their second-ever top six finish during the Premier League era, David Moyes’ side will play in the UEFA Europa League this season. They enter the group stages, which kick-start on Thursday, September 16, 2021, and conclude on Thursday, December 9, 2021.
With the Hammers in the unusual territory this year, will they be able to contend with the demands of European football? What will Europa League qualification also mean for their domestic campaign in the Premier League, EFL Cup and the FA Cup?
Keeping Core Squad Fit
West Ham have maintained the core squad that led them to a European place in the Premier League last season. Despite being linked with moves away from the club, West Ham have retained key players, including midfield star Declan Rice, who has previously been linked with Chelsea and Man United.
In addition, players like Thomas Soucek, Pablo Fornals, Vladimir Coufal and Michail Antonio were also essential to the Hammers success last season. These players have also played important roles in West Ham’s impressive start to the new season, which saw them top the table after game week two. To remain competitive on all fronts this season, keeping these players fit and available will be imperative.
More Signings Required
However, there is a concerning lack of cover for these first-team players at West Ham. In total, the Hammers could play over 50 games this season if they are successful in Europe, which requires plenty of squad depth. Fans who Bet on the Premier League will doubt the Hammers as a result, due to the lack of rotatable players they will need to maintain a strong domestic position in the league whilst also competing in Europe, all whilst factoring in the inevitable injuries that will occur.
There has been little recruitment during the summer transfer window. So far, the club has signed Alphonse Areola from Paris St Germain and Craig Dawson from Watford earlier in the window. They are also finalising a deal for Chelsea's defender Kurt Zouma. The 26-year-old will bolster the defence considerably and provide valuable experience.
While the likes of Areola, Dawson and Zouma provide solidity and experience in defence (particularly Areola and Zouma, who have experience in European competition) there are further areas West Ham need to bolster to avoid struggling with this season. Currently, Michail Antonio is the Hammer's only recognised striker. Antonio scored 10 goals last season, despite missing large spells due to injury. But he has made a blistering start to the season, scoring three goals in his first two matches to become West Ham's leading Premier League goalscorer.
However, the demands for the 31-year-old to lead the line in the Premier League and Europe could be a stretch. Strengthening the centre forward position to provide cover and competitions for Antonio is essential. In the past, the Hammers have struggled for goals without Antonio as their talisman. Over the past two seasons, Antonio and Soucek are the only players to reach double figures.
Furthermore, there is little cover for the reliable duo of Rice and Soucek in the centre of midfield. Hammers stalwart Mark Noble could provide cover in this area, and 21-year-old Conor Coventry also looks set to step up to the first team this season. However, more experience in this area is needed for the Hammers to meet the demands of four competitive competitions throughout the season.
Travel and Fixture Pile Up
One of the big demands of the Europa League and its impact on participating players is the effect of the quick turnaround in matches and the travel involved.
This season, West Ham have been drawn against Dinamo Zagreb, Genk and Rapid Wien in Group H. Playing against tough opposition and travelling to and from Croatia, Austria and Belgium before another match on Sunday in the Premier League will affect performance levels. Furthermore, if the Hammer’s squad is not bolstered before the end of the transfer window, the demands on their already thin team will lead to a tough, long season for the East London club.
As the Hammers head into their first European campaign in 14 years, there is little to go by in terms of past performances or form. The club are in relatively unknown territory.
However, with the demands of multiple competitions during the 2021/22 season, there could be some issues for Moyes’ side.
With limited transfer activity, and a lack of depth in the squad, West Ham’s impressive start to the new campaign could tail off in the coming months. In previous seasons, the likes of Man United and Arsenal have struggled domestically following the demands of travel and fatigue whilst playing mid-week in the Europa League.
The East London side are likely to suffer a similar trend this season. If the Hammers are successful in Europe, something will have to give as the latter stages of the Europa League will continue into 2022.