DANNY MURPHY: West Ham need to avoid relegation more than any of their Premier League survival rivals… what if they couldn’t bounce back this time?
- West Ham need to stay in the Premier League more than any other club in danger
- They lack athleticism, a stark contrast to the energy of most top-flight teams
- Moyes won’t want another relegation on his CV despite his good reputation
- If West Ham can survive a tough relegation battle, it can act as a springboard
I have never agreed with the theory that being relegated can be a blessing in disguise. Dropping out of the Premier League isn’t good for anyone and in West Ham’s case it would be particularly disastrous.
They need to stay up more than any other club in danger of the drop, which only adds to the pressure on David Moyes when they go to Manchester City on Sunday.
Can you imagine the vast London Stadium half-empty in the Championship next season with Hammers fans watching a team bereft of Felipe Anderson, Declan Rice or Issa Diop? There would be no reason for the best West Ham players to stick around when top division clubs want them.
The pressure is on David Moyes, it is essential that West Ham avoid relegation this season
Fear for West Ham is building, and they have a lot of work to do to turn things around
The vast London Stadium’s empty seats would be a sad sight for the club if they went down
It all adds up to a potential nightmare. I know West Ham have been down before and immediately earned promotion. But what if they couldn’t do it again?
Derby have been out of the Premier League for 12 years, Leeds for 16 and Sheffield Wednesday for 20. I’m not saying the same would happen to the Hammers but there are no guarantees once you’re relegated.
The pressure is on Moyes to turn things round. The stakes are high. This season’s relegation battle has had enough twists to deter anyone from making any firm predictions but I do fear for West Ham.
They are on a run of six games without a win and have an awkward fixture list ahead with games at City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham in the next six weeks.
With top Premier League sides sniffing around top talent like Declan Rice, they would leave
There’s a lack of athleticism in their team, which is in stark contrast to the energy and mobility of most Premier League teams.
Mark Noble and Pablo Zabaleta have great experience but can’t provide all the leadership on their own. Clubs such as West Ham prefer to sign young players because of the potential sell-on value but it can be counter-productive in the short run. West Ham are over-reliant on Noble for guidance.
The isolation of Sebastien Haller up front is worrying and the fact that a £45million striker has scored only three goals since August tells its own story.
Moyes will know better than me because he sees the players in training every day but I see a centre-forward who is galvanised by having a partner and I think it’s important for West Ham that Michail Antonio stays fit and gives Haller the support he requires.
West Ham lack the mobility shown by other energetic Premier League sides around them
Jarrod Bowen will also have to hit the ground running after his move from Hull last month.
Of course, West Ham have been hit by injuries to Lukasz Fabianski, Jack Wilshere and Anderson but when those problems arise you have to deal with them.
I can see why hiring Moyes at the end of December was a logical move. There was no sign of the players responding to Manuel Pellegrini with fight and character.
Moyes’ record shows he knows how to organise teams and get right the basics you need to escape the drop. It was a bonus that he had been at the club before so it wasn’t as if most of the squad were looking at a stranger walking through the door.
A couple of weeks ago I wouldn’t have put West Ham down as relegation prospects but the past few games — notably the way they threw away a 3-1 lead against Brighton — have changed my mind. That lack of game management was evident with players taking foolish risks when they were winning.
West Ham have bounced back before, but what is to say they can do it one more time
In my experience of a relegation battle at Fulham, a key factor was seeing out victories when we were ahead. I generally liked dropping deep to take the ball off Mark Schwarzer in goal but not with 10 minutes to go when we were leading in a six-pointer. Let the goalkeeper kick it up the pitch.
It’s an important few weeks for Moyes. He has earned a good reputation, largely for the fantastic work he did at Everton but, having gone down with Sunderland, he won’t want another relegation on his CV.
If the worst happens he will come in for scrutiny because he was given enough time — half the season — to put things right.
Moyes won’t be thinking the worst yet. He’ll have enough confidence in his own ability and the quality in the West Ham squad to believe they can get out of it, but he can’t afford to give up on those fixtures that look hardest on paper because every point is precious.
He’ll know stopping Manchester City’s attack on Sunday could be like trying to plug a water pipe that is full of holes. West Ham will have to defend with everything and the forwards need to drop in to help the midfield. They won’t want a hiding at the Etihad because that would drain belief.
Sometimes relegation can lead to better things, like Fulham’s run to the Europa League final
Bringing Kevin Nolan on to the staff is a clever move. Kev is a strong character and will know some of the players from his own time there. He’ll be the go-between for the management and the squad. He can be the players’ mate but won’t worry about having a few strong words himself when necessary.
While relegation doesn’t bear thinking about, the flip side is that if West Ham can survive a tough relegation battle, it can act as a springboard for better things.
I know from Fulham that the pressure wasn’t enjoyable at the time but, because it had a happy ending, I look back on it now as a good adventure. Coming through a massive test like that gave us the strength and confidence to progress and eventually reach the Europa League final in 2010.
West Ham are a big club and the prize for staying up is huge. But they have plenty of work to do.
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