From zero points to derby heroics: the West Ham players key to season turnaround

Jack Rosser
·7-min read
West Ham United FC via Getty Ima
West Ham United FC via Getty Ima

There were genuine fears among fans that West Ham could have no points by November following the opening day defeat to Newcastle.

After such a torrid performance, with no new arrivals and the ever-present toxic undercurrent starting to bubble up once more, things looked rather bleak in east London.

“I don’t think we could have played any worse, to be honest with you,” Declan Rice said following that defeat at the London Stadium. Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester City and Tottenham were waiting to pile on the misery.

Manager David Moyes acted quickly. Against the Gunners, he shifted to a shape which served him well during his first spell at the club, pulling Aaron Cresswell into a back three and introducing Arthur Masuaku down the left. West Ham were beaten, but Moyes was encouraged by what he had seen.

Few could have predicted what would come next: the manager and two players tested positive for coronavirus, which results confirmed just 70 minutes before a League Cup game against Hull City. That meant Moyes was absent from the touchline during thumping Premier League wins over Wolves and Leicester City, but very much still involved while working remotely.

Moyes returned to the touchline on Sunday and watched as his team went 3-0 down inside 16 minutes, the jokes were writing themselves, but a thrilling comeback in north London was a testament to the work the manager has done and the spirit created within the squad.

West Ham now face their two toughest tests of the season, Manchester City and Liverpool in consecutive weekends, but do so with seven points on the board and brimming confidence. Here are the players who helped get them there.

(AP)
(AP)

Declan Rice

Perhaps the biggest success of the transfer window just gone for West Ham was that it passed without Rice departing. It was simple in the end, that offer from Chelsea never arrived and thus their resolve was untested, but Rice is at the heart of Moyes's plans going forward.

With Mark Noble struggling to get into the side, Rice - who himself admitted he was well below standards against Newcastle in that first game - has taken the armband and excelled. The 21-year-old has shown leadership qualities which have wowed his club coaches, as well as England manager Gareth Southgate. His vision and positioning off the ball are well known and remarkable, but he is developing on the ball this season too.

"He looks every bit the part of an England international," Hammers coach Stuart Pearce told Standard Sport. "I see first hand in training about how he zips the ball around and that type of thing.

"I'm seeing a young man who is getting better and better as the weeks go by, and I think you know, we'll just keep improving as a player and playing a massive part. The club, galvanised a fantastic result a couple of weekends ago [against Leicester], and Declan was the captain of the team at the age of 21."

Rice's delight and excitement after the Tottenham draw was palpable, even for those shut out and watching on TV. He has led the way in this revival.

(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)
(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

Jarrod Bowen

The archetypal David Moyes signing, Bowen was eased in to life at West Ham following his arrival from Hull City in January, but from his first few touches in claret and blue it was clear they'd landed an exciting talent.

Bowen could not fit Moyes's "young, hungry and something to prove" mould any better, and after showing some impressive attacking intent during his first half season at the club, the 23-year-old is adding end product to his weaving runs.

Having managed just one goal in 13 Premier League outings last season, Bowen notched three in the two wins over Wolves and Leicester as his direct running and quick feet caused defenders no end of problems, his tireless pressing also helped the Hammers in the build-up to their second goal against Spurs on Sunday.

"I've always said double figures," Bowen said when recently asked if he'd set a target for goals this season. "I know it is going to be difficult in the PL this season but I believe I can score goals at this level. That is what I am going to aiming for and if I keep performing the way I did last night I don't think there's any reason I can't get there."

With competition from another new arrival in Said Benrahma, Bowen has every reason to keep up his streak of form and ensure Moyes is not simply reliant on Michail Antonio for his goals.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tomas Soucek

Jose Mourinho remarked after Sunday's draw that, in Tomas Soucek, Moyes had found "his new [Marouane] Fellaini".

It is a comparison which has been put to the former Everton and Manchester United boss before, and not one which he totally endorses, but Soucek has become quite the presence in West Ham's midfield.

The Czech Republic international, who has covered more ground than any player on the pitch for either side in each of the Hammers' games this season, is far more than just a hard worker. He may appear a marauding monster, but the former Slavia Prague man has a canny knack for being in the right place at the right time whenever the ball is up for grabs in the midfield, while he's a constant threat in the penalty box.

Soucek has also proved rather adept off the pitch too, playing a big role in West Ham identifying and signing right-back Vladimir Coufal.

(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)
(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

Aaron Cresswell

Much maligned by supporters in recent years at West Ham, Cresswell is continuing to prove his importance to Moyes this season.

Left-back was one signing many a fan were crying out for during the transfer window, with an upgrade on both Cresswell and Arthur Masuaku wanted. However, Moyes's tactical shift has seemingly brought the best out of both.

Cresswell has slotted seamlessly into the left of the back three, looking confident and robust on the defensive side, while also still managing to chip in going forward.

Against Leicester he found licence to get forward and contributed with two assists, one a wonderful ball to the back post for Antonio to head home across Kasper Schmeichel. His set pieces too have proved a nightmare for opponents to deal with on top of his performances at the back.

Cresswell's success in the back three has also given Masuaku the protection and the platform to shun the defensive side of the game, something he's all too happy to do, and focus on getting forward and causing problems further down the left. Their proving quite the pair.

(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)
(West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

Vladimir Coufal

It is early days for the Czech full-back, signed on Soucek's recommendation, but Coufal has hit the ground running in the capital.

Thrown in after just two days of training against Leicester, Coufal grew quickly into the game and was on hand to make two decisive blocks at the back before looking to make his mark going forward. There were glimpses against Leicester, before his wonderful exchange and run with Andriy Yarmolenko against Tottenham, which resulted in his fierce cross being turned into the Spurs net by Davinson Sanchez, showed how much of a threat he can bring going forward.

Soucek, who has helped his former Slavia Prague teammate settle in English football - the two are said to be inseparable around the Rush Green training ground while their families are close off the pitch, warned that Coufal could well challenge him on the running stats, and the full-back has proved to be a hard worker in his early appearances.

"That shows an awful lot of intelligence and understanding," assistant manager Alan Irvine said of the 28-year-old following his debut at the King Power. "The very fact that he could step in and perform like he did."