Maybe it was pandemic football that blinded me. After all, it was hard to fully invest in in the same way with the canned noise and lessened verve that each game had. Everything started to look and feel the same, and hence I couldn’t see what was really going on.
Or maybe it’s kind of the background status West Ham have always had. Of all the preeminent London clubs, they’re the ones you think about least. Chelsea are insanely rich and perennial contenders. Arsenal used to be that, and are now just comedy. Spurs were really interesting there for a minute, and now are the Costello to Arsenal’s Abbot. Crystal Palace at least are something of a surprise every season in that they don’t get relegated. Fulham come up for air every so often, get smushed like a whack-a-mole, and go back to whence they came.
But West Ham? Sure, they’ve been relegated. But that was a bit ago. Sure, their ownership is a mess, but that’s not all that unique. They’ve just been that team that plays in a faceless stadium that all their fans hate, filling out the fixture list while Mark Noble yells at everyone as he gets totally bypassed in midfield. They’ve always had a yelling guy. You hear “those in the know” talk about how they should be bigger than they are, what they used to be, etc. And you stop thinking about them as soon as they’re done playing the team you support.
Sure, they finished sixth last year, qualified for the Europa League, but it was easily dismissed as a pandemic oddity. In a season where most everyone felt like they were napping for at least a spell, West Ham — the eternal napping club — floated up the table.
Being managed by David Moyes didn’t help. Moyes has always known for having his teams have all the spice of boiled chicken breast. He gained renown for making Everton a stone wall with all of that flash. When he somehow parlayed being Alex Ferguson’s drinking buddy into the Man United job, with all the money and all that talent at his disposal, his attacking tactics amounted to “get to the end line and cross.” He piloted United into a tailspin from which they’re still yet to recover (so we all owe him a sizable debt of gratitude).
After washing out at Real Sociedad and Sunderland, a return to West Ham seemed perfect. A just-there team managed by a guy perfect for topping out at making a team scenery.
Yeah, the thing is West Ham are incredibly fun. I don’t know who this guy parading around as Moyes is, or if this is how he’s dealing with exiting middle age (he’s 58), but these Hammers feel a lot like the Corvette he was supposed to buy.
That sixth-place finish last year, the club’s highest ever in the Premier League, came on 62 goals, their second-most in their time in the division. And they haven’t stopped so far this season, with eight goals in their first two games, as they’ve utterly thwacked Newcastle on the road and then Leicester at home yesterday.
Are there caveats? Sure. Newcastle are once again a Mike Ashley-inspired collection of parts found in the alley, and Leicester had a player sent off in the 40th minute. But West Ham were already throttling them before they went down to 10 men.
That doesn’t mean West Ham don’t exhibit some of Moyes’s known tendencies. They sat off the more positive Leicester until the halfway line last night, and this is their usual MO. West Ham pressed among the least in the attacking or middle third last season. It’s when they do snap into action that things get…weird.
Whenever Leiceister tried to go through the middle past the halfway line, Declan Rice or Tomáṧ Souček or Pablo Fornals would snap into action like a guard dog, and then West Ham would get out on the counter after stealing the ball. And this is where Moyes apparently has decided to say “Fuck it, I’m old!” Because when West Ham get out, they are a sight. Moyes has apparently told Fornals, Soucek, Michail Antonio, Saïd Benrahma to get funky whenever they can, because the big clubs would look at this counter attack yesterday and applaud:
This is as vicious as it is intricate, with a delicate finish on the end from Fornals. And this is the kind of thing they’ve been doing since last season.
Moyes should also get special plaudits for completely revitalizing the career of Antonio. Until last season, Antonio was something of a try-hard winger whose main quality was that he never stopped running. He could occasionally moonlight as a center forward, but mostly for his energy levels. Now, he’s fucking baby-Lukaku as a #9 (even though he’s older). His first goal last night was just an act of bullying:
That’s three touches, all of which scream, “GET THE FUCK OUTTA THE WAY!” Antonio would add another later that showed world class deftness:
That’s sublime. Also, if you’re into cool celebrations, Antonio is the T.O. of the Premier League:
Who knows what West Ham are capable of this season. Their squad probably isn’t big enough to handle a true jaunt in the Europa League, and even last season the only team they beat that finished ahead of them was Leicester, which they apparently have a taste for. But you can go a long way feasting on everyone else outside the top four, and with Antonio playing like this, and a team having this much fun in front of a rabid fanbase that’s finally paused complaining about the stadium, this might be a thing we have to get used to.
Buy the ticket.