West Ham cannot afford to slow down now. When David Moyes’s side look over their shoulders, they can see the big teams picking up pace. Arsenal are a point behind in fifth place, Antonio Conte has revived Tottenham and there is renewed hope at Manchester United after the appointment of Ralf Rangnick, for whom Champions League qualification is imperative after inheriting one of the most expensive squads in the Premier League.
In that context it seems unlikely that West Ham, who have not played well since beating Liverpool last month, can cling on to fourth place. They have taken one point from their past three games, Michail Antonio has stopped scoring and their stuttering form has increased the feeling that they require reinforcements in January to stop Arsenal, Spurs and United hunting them down.
Yet there is no need to panic. West Ham are in a strong position before hosting Chelsea on Saturday and Moyes, who has performed wonders since returning in December 2019, is not ready to settle for second best. There was no hesitation when it was put to him that West Ham may not get a better opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.
“I probably would go along with it,” Moyes said. “Not because of what the other teams are doing but because of West Ham. We’ve got a good team. We’re growing the club. Unless you’ve got huge money you very rarely make a jump like we’ve done. And if you do it like that you’re more likely to have a dip. We’re the opposite. We’re probably ahead of schedule.”
West Ham are making impressive strides. They finished sixth last season, have reached the last 16 of the Europa League and await Spurs in the last eight of the Carabao Cup. Two years ago they were battling relegation; this blip, by comparison, is a walk in the park. “Nothing was worse than going back to my flat in Stratford in lockdown thinking: ‘Can I keep us up?’” Moyes said. “Nothing will ever be as bad as that pressure.”
All the same Moyes is keen to kick on. These opportunities do not come by all the time, but momentum has faded since the win over Liverpool. Angelo Ogbonna’s season-ending knee injury has disrupted West Ham’s balance in central defence and there were signs of tiredness during the 1-1 draw with Brighton on Wednesday, hints that the demands of playing in Europe are beginning to catch up with a stretched squad.
With the transfer window approaching, Moyes spoke about needing a second wind. “The biggest burst of energy always has to come from within here,” he said. “The person who has to do that always has to be the manager. I’m asking for more from all the players. If you want to be at the top, there’s a level you have to play at. You have to be technically good, you have to take opportunities, you have to be good on the ball.”
West Ham were none of those things against Brighton. Jarrod Bowen spurned three good chances, Saïd Benrahma offered little in attacking midfield and Antonio, who has one goal in his past 10 club games, was subdued. Antonio, West Ham’s only striker, looks tired. He needs support to arrive in January, and West Ham could do with Nikola Vlasic stepping up when Benrahma is representing Algeria at the Africa Cup of Nations next month.
Vlasic is still settling after his £30m move from CSKA Moscow last summer and the Croatian’s struggles will increase Moyes’s determination to sign Jesse Lingard. The forward excelled on loan in the second half of last season and he is unlikely to sign a new contract at Manchester United, where deal expires next summer. “Jesse knows what we all think of him here,” Moyes said. “My disappointment for Jesse would be I think he’s such a talented football player and he’s not playing.”
It was not particularly subtle from Moyes. The Scot knows that January is important. He will want backing from his bosses, especially now that David Sullivan and David Gold have been joined on the board by Daniel Kretinsky, the Czech billionaire who bought a 27% stake last month.
This is a crucial moment for West Ham, who could bring in Manuel Lanzini for Benrahma on Saturday. They do not only need additions in attack. Craig Dawson has not convinced after stepping in for Ogbonna and Moyes wants to sign a centre-back to play alongside Kurt Zouma, who has impressed since his £29.8m move from Chelsea.
Burnley’s James Tarkowski remains a target. “I would like to see if I could add bits of quality where you could say: ‘Oh wow, he’s going to threaten the team,’” Moyes said. The message was clear: West Ham are setting their sights high.