Manchester City’s undefeated run—along with their season-long clean sheet—came to an end this weekend, but it was not cross town rivals Manchester United, nor the reigning champions Chelsea who forced City into their first dropped points: it was West Ham United.
After being relegated from the Premier League in 2011, finishing at the very bottom of the table, West Ham United fought their way back into the top flight in 2012, coming in 3rd in the Football League Championship. Since then, West Ham have been a securely mid-table team, not caught in relegation battles, but not really bothering the clubs at the top of the table. Between 2013 – 2015, West Ham finished 10th, 13th, and 12th. Their form this year, however, has been enough to turn a few heads, and leave The Hammers’ supporters dreaming of a Cinderella campaign.
Whether or not West Ham can make good on that hope remains to be seen, but at the moment, the pumpkin is still a carriage—and glorious one at that. After defeating Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad, West Ham have felled three top teams in their first six games, beating Arsenal 2-0, and Liverpool 3-0. What’s perhaps even more impressive is that all three games have been on the road, making West Ham United only the fourth team in the history of the Premier League to defeat all three of those clubs in their home stadiums within the same season.
In this season’s blistering start, midfielder Mark Noble has enjoyed some of his career’s best form, last year’s addition at striker Diafra Sakho looks to be further improving from his inaugural season’s already solid campaign, and Chelsea loanee Victor Moses has added even more bite to the attacking options at Upton Park. But if you asked a Hammers supporter to pick a single name to credit for this year’s excellent beginning, there’s really only one option: West Ham’s new winger, Dimitri Payet.
A speedy winger with both great control on the ball and superb crossing ability, Payet joined West Ham from Marseilles this summer, arriving for a reported fee of £10.7 million, and signing on to a five-year contract that doubled his salary in Ligue 1. At this rate, however, Payet may enjoy an even greater pay day in the years ahead. In six league games, Payet has scored three goals, and assisted two more. At this point in the season, WhoScored has Payet ranked as one of the five best performers in the Premier League.
The question, then, is whether or not Payet can continue to inspire West Ham, and just how high they can realistically aspire.
At present, West Ham United occupy third place in the Premier League, one point behind Manchester United, and three points off leaders Manchester City. Despite their flashy victories, West Ham have dropped points to arguably lesser clubs, and have done so at home, losing 2-1 to Leicester City (who, it must be said, are having a great start of their own, and sit in fourth place, just ahead of Arsenal), and also dropping a thriller 3-4 to newly promoted AFC Bournemouth. If West Ham are to dream of a high table finish, and perhaps even an Europa League berth, then they’ll need to improve their form at home, and to establish themselves as the clear favorite when facing opposition lower in the table.
In the coming month, however, West Ham will have precisely that opportunity. In their next three league fixtures, West Ham face Norwich City, last place Sunderland, and Crystal Palace, all teams they are capable of beating, should they continue to play as they did this weekend in Manchester. Then, on October 24th, West Ham have their next major test when Chelsea come to Upton Park. If West Ham can secure themselves in the top 4 through their next three, winnable games, then that clash will be very interesting indeed. And at that point, if West Ham United can even take a point off the defending champions—and can do so without the aid of Blues loanee Victor Moses—then we may just see Cinderella wearing a cross of hammers on her chest.