It’s no understatement to say that 2020/21 has been one of the strangest top-flight seasons ever, from the lack of fans, to the fact that away teams are winning an unprecedented 41% of games.
Among all of these shocks, West Ham’s presence in the top four in February was the most welcome.
It got me thinking; Can we sustain our challenge this campaign and continue to challenge for the next few seasons?
Could we even ‘do a Leicester’ and win the league against the odds with our current crop of players?
One man to have already played down any title talk is David Moyes: ‘You always want to shoot for the stars and I’ll always try and do that if I can. I think you always want to think, “How can I have a chance of winning it?”
‘At the moment it’s way too soon. Even with European football, it’s not that I don’t want to talk about it but I just want everyone to realise we’re making great strides and we need to be careful that we don’t disappoint.’
It’s important to establish how strange football has been without the fans this season.
Of course, there have been some crazy away wins such as Tottenham’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford and Liverpool’s 7-0 victory at Crystal Palace.
It’s also easy to forget the players we are watching are human beings, still trying to adapt to scoring and celebrating goals in empty stadiums.
Earlier this season Burnley’s Jay Rodriguez summed up the situation: ‘I’d be lying if I said it was normal and everything was fine, because football is about playing in front of fans and being driven on by the atmosphere.’
Missing the fans has been a huge factor, going one-nil down at home and lacking thousands of supporters pushing the players on, has had its impact.
Conversely for West Ham, the lack of home supporters might have helped the players perform better.
Last season West Ham were 16th in the league on home form, this year we are second-place, behind only Manchester City.
That could partly be due to fan unhappiness with the ownership and stadium, but I have witnessed the crowd turn against the players on several occasions, and it hasn’t helped their performance.
It is no surprise that without the crowds in the grounds, there were only two managerial changes in the league heading into March; last season there had been five sackings before Christmas.
Without the fan pressure, Moyes has been able to build the current iteration of West Ham that are looking like a solid European prospect.
The season didn’t start well and he dealt with a lot of fan opposition to his appointment last December, but the team have turned it around with some astute signings and gritty performances on the pitch.
However, the idea of us winning the title on the horizon doesn’t appear realistic given the squads and finances of the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.
The year Leicester won the league, they did so by 10 clear points, and it felt like the perfect storm for a new contender to emerge and steal the league.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all struggled that campaign and allowed the Foxes to pounce.
And although all the ‘main contenders’ have faltered this season, any suggestion of a challenge for the title, albeit unlikely anyway, went out the window after we left Man City empty handed.
City appeared dead and buried in November, when they were 13th in the league after losing to Tottenham, but they went onto win 21 straight games from December and are now arguably running away with the league.
Pep Guardiola resurrecting his team’s non-existent title hopes has certainly blocked any potential title miracles this season, and stopped West Ham replicating Leicester’s 5000/1 success from five years ago.
Regardless of the Premier League title being out of reach in the short and long-term, it still feels like Moyes’ Boys have got the drive and quality to enter Europe next season.
Although the manager has also downplayed this: ‘I said at the start that we’re not going to promise things we can’t deliver. I can’t promise we can finish in the Champions League or Europa League.
‘What I can promise is that we’re going to be a Premier League team next season which a lot of people would’ve accepted. We’re hoping that we can overdeliver (this season) but I can’t give that answer until another three months’ time.’
If we can finish in those fabled Champions League spots it would be a pleasant surprise, but Europa League should be a good bet at the least.
And looking at the Romanian Liga I, Astra Giurgiu are stuck in mid-table, so we should be safe from facing them again.