The 2018/19 season finally ended on a positive note with West Ham recording a third successive win that allowed them to sneak into the top half of the table at the expense of Watford. Better than anticipated a few weeks ago but no open topped bus parade! A first run of back to back victories since December allows us to go into the summer break with an unexpected sense of optimism.
The general consensus in the media was that it was a good first season in charge for Manuel Pellegrini and but for a disastrous start (and the usual collection of dubious refereeing decisions) it could have been even better. In truth, pundits don’t pay detailed attention to clubs outside of the ‘big six’ and their views are often superficial and patronising. Which players from the likes of West Ham, Leicester, Wolves or Everton could attract interest from the elite is the usual extent of their insight.
The exciting last day finish together with the dominance of English clubs in the European finals has reignited claims that the Premier League is both the best in the world and the most competitive. It certainly has the best players money can buy but, in reality, it is largely predictable. If you rank and compare finishing positions with the revenues of each club you will find a very high level of correlation. In any year there will be over-achievers (Wolves, Watford) and under-achievers (Manchester United, Southampton) but the majority of clubs finished the 2018/19 season within two places of what their revenue ranking would suggest. My research suggests that West Ham are 8th highest revenue earners suggesting that a 10th place finish is just below average. Of course, it is not just about having money – you need to use it and use it wisely!
Looking at West Ham’s performance against their Premier League history you might conclude that it was a slightly above average season. The following table shows how this season compares with the average for the 21 seasons in which the Hammers have competed since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches (eagle eyed observers will note that points does not tally with the results for the average season – this is due to rounding) :
The 9 home wins was the best return since the move to the London Stadium. The last time West Ham won more than 9 games at home during a season, however, was back in 2001/02 (12) while the most successful season was 13 home wins in 1997/98. That same season also saw the fewest home defeats (2) with the worst being 9 in both 2006/07 and 2010/11.
Away from home, 6 victories is towards the top end of West Ham’s on-the-road achievements and has only been bettered in 2005/06 and 2015/16. However, the move away from the cautious ‘respect the point’ philosophy saw a below average number of away draws.
Aside from the record points haul of 62 in 2015/16, this year’s total was the highest since 2005/06 and the 7th highest out of the 21 seasons reviewed. The 2015/16 season is famously the only Premier League one where West Ham have finished with a positive goal difference and this season’s total (-3) was in the top six outcomes and bettered the 21 season average of -9.
If goals are what you like then the best teams to follow in 2018/19 season would have been Bournemouth (126), Arsenal (124) and Manchester United (119). West Ham matches saw 107 goals awarded – ranking in 10th position.
Most would agree that the style of football has improved significantly this season, even though a shocking inconsistency has frequently overshadowed this. Excellent performances in matches against top sides were balanced out by some shockers with struggling sides.
In summary, there are enough positive signs to believe that Pellegrini is moving the club in the right direction but recognising there is plenty of work to do and plenty of additional investment necessary if the club is to consistently achieve its expected position of 7th or 8th. Unfortunately, any progress beyond that (unless there is another collective top six blip as happened in 2015/16) would require massive external investment – the idea of a next level without that happening is really wishful thinking.
That leaves us with looking forward with interest at how the summer player recruitment and sales pan out. How much money can be made available, can we hold on to our better players and will the club be able to make further astute signings that suit Pellegrini’s style of play and ensure that relegation battles are a thing of the past?