Arguably the story of last season, West Ham United outlasted London rivals Spurs and Arsenal to qualify for the Europa League proper in 2021/22 – the first time the Hammers will contest within the main body of a tournament they have been dumped from whilst negotiating the latter qualifying stage in both 2015/16 and subsequently in 2016/17.
For the most part, David Moyes’s return to the London Stadium has seen the implementation of a tactical strategy heavily centred upon out-running, out-muscling and out-crossing other sides. It worked, but the question that must surely be answered this season is that of how long it can be sustained?
The story of the East Londoners success bears out in some of the more telling team stats from last season, with most available to consume in the Fantasy Football Scout Members Area.
No team provided more accurate crosses nor headed goals in the Premier League last season than West Ham. Only long ball merchants Burnley successfully contested more aerial duels, and only Leicester City managed more interceptions. The fact the Hammers also topped the charts for most own goals scored and lay second to Spurs for the most times a shot hit the post probably also gives some semblance of an all-action approach to things.
Unsurprisingly, individual stats are correlative.
Aaron Cresswell (£5.5m) scored 730 BPS points last season, securing a place safely within the top ten of all performers league-wide. No small part in this feat will be attributed to the left-sided defender’s ability to produce accurate crosses – 59 met their intended target across the campaign, with only the vaulted Liverpool wing-back pair of Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) and more advanced serial creators in Chelsea’s Mason Mount (£7.5m) and Brighton’s Pascal Groß (£6.0m) providing more.
A considerable percentage of Cresswell’s crosses landed on the head of Tomas Soucek (£6.0m) who has been slapped with a £1.0m price rise hike after finishing last season with ten goals from his box-to-box midfielder berth. The Czech international underpins West Ham’s physical approach and led the league in numerous statistics last year that cement the notion – most duels for possession won, most one on one player confrontations won and most fouls committed to name but a few. Despite his price hike, he already boasts ownership of over 11% for the incoming season at the time of writing.
Other popular picks include Soucek’s Czech compatriot right-back Vlad Coufal (£5.0m) and goal-getter Michail Antonio (£7.5m) who boast respective ownerships of 17.5% and 11.2% after both being priced up at dearer prices for the upcoming foray – Coufal will cost half a million more than last season’s budget bracket £4.5m, whilst Antonio gets a £1.0m rise like Soucek.
The scintillating form of loan signing Jesse Lingard (£7.0m) was a key factor in West Ham’s success in the latter part of the season, but it seems likely that such was the Mancunian’s upturn in performance that he will be retained by Manchester United this season.
Declan Rice (£5.0m) managed to avoid a price rise even though only Southampton engine man James Ward-Prowse (£6.5m) covered more distance than the Ireland-cum-England international across the 38 Premier League games.
Jarrod Bowen (£6.5m) also has failed to add any more moolah to this season’s starting price, despite registering 141 points across FPL last season, despite being the league’s most substituted player last campaign.
So why the room for pessimism one could rightly ask?
At the very minimum, the Hammers will have to fulfil at least six more fixtures than last season, given their Europa League responsibilities, despite having a very small squad. As of yet, no summer additions have been made to the squad and they have only 20 players currently available for selection for FPL purposes – only the decimated Crystal Palace squad of 18 has less.
The all-action style is very much dependent on the lynchpins of Rice and Soucek in the middle of the park and whilst both players numbers are phenomenal, Soucek has only missed one minute of Premier League football since Project Restart in May 2020 and reached the quarter-final of Euro 2020 with his nation – playing every minute along the way. Rice of course went as deep as one could go in the tournament and the emotional toll of Sunday’s defeat to Italy has yet to be ascertained.
A history of injury susceptibility in key players must also be a concern for would-be Fantasy managers. Cresswell, despite starting 36 of the 38 games in the league last year, did have a pesky groin injury that seems to persistently raise its head once or twice a season, put pay to his involvement in the defeats to Newcastle and Chelsea, at a time when the Hammers still held hope for Champions League qualification. The explosive Antonio seems to be paying the price for such strength and power more and more as he ages, missing 13 games last season through injury, whilst fellow 30-something Andriy Yarmolenko has missed 25 games over the past two seasons with varying ailments after having his maiden season in London almost completely obliterated after an Achilles tendon rupture in the early part of the 2018/19 campaign.
The loss of Lingard, so instrumental from January to May having arrived fresh having been starved for gametime at United, is likely to prove catastrophic. Lingard finished only second to Harry Kane (£12.5m) in the points per match category last season – hauling in an average of 6.6 points per appearance.
And what’s more, Moyes himself dropped somewhat of a hint as to the faith he may put in younger relatively untried players that the club has at their disposal this season in the wake of the departure of the likes of Lingard, Fabien Balbuena and the increasingly likely scenario that Felipe Anderson will soon be off.
Those comments came after the pre-season draw with Dundee that saw Moyes start with unpriced Fantasy assets Frederick Alves, Conor Coventry and Nathan Holland, as well as goalscoring defender Jamal Baptiste who was introduced from the bench.
If all that wasn’t able to convince the most optimistic of West Ham backers, then perhaps the realisation that weekend fixtures against Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool and an away trip to Man City follow four of their six Europa League Thursday night commitments might help sway the argument.
After what was a superb campaign from the Irons last campaign, player burn-out and lack of squad depth could very well be the prodding fingers that burst the bubbles at the London Stadium.