After finishing in the top seven in successive top-division seasons for the first time, West Ham raised expectations last summer by spending £179m. Only Chelsea and Manchester United spent more in Europe.
But the Hammers have gone backwards dramatically in the Premier League and sit in the relegation zone, one point from safety.
“We brought in a lot of new players and I decided that we needed to make a few changes to continue trying to grow the club and move the team on,” West Ham boss David Moyes exclusively tells Sky Sports.
“I have to be honest and say that it’s not worked as well as I would’ve liked.
“But I don’t think it’s necessarily just down to the changes, we’ve had a lot of players here that maybe have not shown the form they have shown in recent seasons.
“We’ve introduced a lot of new players, and in the Premier League it takes time.
“I don’t think we could have done anything different, but we just need to try and see if we can get ourselves through this one and hopefully look forward to picking up next season.”
The most expensive of the nine summer signings were Lucas Paqueta – who cost a club-record £51.3m – and Gianluca Scamacca at £35.5m, but both have struggled to justify their price tags.
“It would’ve been hard for us not to buy any players,” Moyes says, “so if we were going to buy cheap players then we would’ve been saying it was the wrong thing to do.
“In the summer, we brought in two Italian internationals [Scamacca and Emerson Palmieri]. We brought in a Brazilian international [Paqueta], a Moroccan international [Nayef Aguerd], a German international [Thilo Kehrer], which we felt were good enough to make our squad stronger for the Premier League and for Europe.
“I still believe wholeheartedly that we’ve got a much stronger squad.
“Are we playing as well as a team this year? No, we’re not. But ultimately that’s the next stage, we’ve got to try and get that, we’ve got to get them all blended in.”
With a squad flooded full of international quality, many consider West Ham too good to go down – including the statisticians.
Opta’s Season Predictor gives them just a 15 per cent chance of being relegated, with only Crystal Palace and Leicester having a lower percentage of the bottom nine teams.
“I’m confident come the end of the season we’ll be in a strong position,” insists Moyes.
“There’s been some games that I’ve been really pleased with how we’ve played, but there’s been others I’ve not been so pleased with, so I’m trying to get more of a consistency back into the team and we’re going to have to show that in the last couple of months.”
Their pivotal Premier League run-in starts with a crunch home game against bottom-side Southampton on Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
A win could see West Ham rise as high as 13th. Lose, however, and they could go bottom. It really is a so-called ‘six-pointer’.
But it is not the first ‘six-pointer’ the Hammers have faced this year. Home matches against fellow relegation strugglers Everton and Nottingham Forest were billed as must-wins – and they delivered in both with convincing victories.
So surely Moyes is encouraged by the fact that his side seem to respond when the pressure is at its highest?
“Well, I hope that is the case,” he says. “I think that we’ve had to play big games over the last couple of seasons here, whether we’ve been really challenging at the top end of the league or challenging in the latter stages of cup competitions.
“I’m hoping that those sorts of experiences help us and see us through this, but ultimately, it’s one game at a time at the moment.
“We’re not in the same place as we were a couple of years ago.”
Their lack of goals from crosses and set-pieces appears to be a major reason why.
The Irons have scored just one Premier League goal from a cross this season, having scored 30 from crosses in the previous two campaigns combined.
They have also only scored four set-piece goals – the joint-second fewest in the division this season – having topped the charts for this statistic in 2020/21 (16), while they were ranked fifth last season (14).
“Maybe we don’t have Craig Dawson,” says Moyes when quizzed about their set-piece woes. “We didn’t have him at the start of the season, then we lost him [to Wolves] in the January window.
“Maybe we’ve not had Aaron Cresswell [the defender has had an injury-hit season], who was one of our deliverers.
“It could be small, small things. It can be the delivery, it can be the people who head the ball.
“I always said when we were scoring lots of goals from set pieces you need people who want to put their head on the ball, want to go and attack the ball – that’s the way you score.
“Maybe we’ve just not quite got that, and that is what we’ve had in the past.”
Moyes would have been delighted then to see Declan Rice score from a set-piece during the international break as he got England’s opener from a corner in their 2-1 win over Italy.
Rice’s goal in Naples came off the back of criticism from Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness that the 24-year-old does not score enough and lacks creativity to be considered a world-class midfielder.
Questioned about Rice’s attacking output, Moyes says: “He’s got a good strike, so I think Declan’s capable of scoring all different types of goals.
“We’d like him to be a goal scorer as well, but he’s also a very good number six, which means sometimes you don’t get quite as far up the pitch as often as you would.
“You ask Dec and he would want to join in and get forward as well, but sometimes we have to hold him back to do a job for the team.”
Despite those defensive duties, Rice is currently shooting and creating chances more than in any previous Premier League campaign.
“It’s something which we’ve tried to [work on],” Moyes says. “We wanted to involve him in getting forward quicker, more often.
“But also Tomas Soucek, who scored us 10 goals [in the 2020/21 season], was making the box and scoring, so somewhere on the line, somebody has to stay and sit in the middle of the pitch. They can’t all be running forward so it’s part of the job.
“We try and see if we can get one of them getting forward, making the box or getting around the box as often as they can.
“Whoever’s scoring the goals, I really don’t care as long as they’re helping the team.”
But one area Moyes does care about is his side’s slow starts, with West Ham the only Premier League team yet to score in the first 15 minutes of a match this season.
“We’re aware of that statistic,” he admits, “so it’s something we have to try and do.
“If we could get in front more often, it would help us, but it’s interesting, we need to try and find a way of doing better in the opening parts of the games.”
A fast start on Sunday would be the perfect way to begin a hectic but “exciting” April for Moyes and the Hammers, who face nine games in 27 days.
After Southampton at home on Sunday, it is Newcastle at the London Stadium on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports, followed by a trip to Fulham on Saturday, April 8. Then West Ham’s attentions turn to a Europa Conference League quarter-final against Gent.
Having won all 10 games in the tournament, their European form has been in stark contrast to their domestic struggles. It has certainly been a welcome distraction for Moyes.
“We’re in Europe going into April after starting with a qualifier [in August]” he says. “It’s giving us a positive light to what has been a difficult season at the moment, but we’re really sure that we’ll pick up and hopefully have something very good at the end of the season.”
Lifting a first major trophy in 43 years while avoiding relegation could well make the summer spending spree worthwhile after all.
Watch West Ham vs Southampton live on Sky Sports Premier League on Sunday from 1pm; kick-off 2pm. Watch West Ham vs Newcastle live on Sky Sports Premier League on Wednesday from 7.30pm; kick-off 8pm.
West Ham’s remaining fixtures
Sunday: Southampton (H) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
Wednesday: Newcastle (H) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
April 8: Fulham (A) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
April 13: Gent (A) – Europa Conference League quarter-finals, first leg, kick-off 5.45pm
April 16: Arsenal (H) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
April 20: Gent (H) – Europa Conference League quarter-finals, second leg, kick-off 8pm
April 23: Bournemouth (A) – Premier League, kick-off 2pm
April 26: Liverpool (H) – Premier League, kick-off 7.45pm
April 29: Crystal Palace (A) – Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm
May 3: Man City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
May 7: Man Utd (H) – Premier League, kick-off 7pm
May 13: Brentford (A) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 20: Leeds (H) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 28: Leicester City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm