Over the course of the season, we have revelled at our euphoric European campaign, a run that has taken us to our first semi-final since 1976. On our journey so far, we’ve managed to put in some of the most memorable performances in the club’s recent history, overcoming European giants including Sevilla and Lyon on our quest for glory.
However, the highs of our triumphant Thursday nights have frequently been followed by frustratingly underwhelming performances in the Premier League, and the further we reach in Europe, the wearier and more lethargic we seem to appear against our opponents domestically.
In the eleven games we have played following our Europa League fixtures, we have suffered six losses, drawn twice, and only picked up three victories. Our first two European games were followed by defeats in the league against Manchester United and Brentford, with lapses in concentration coming right at the climax of each game.
Exceptional victories at home to Liverpool and Spurs followed both of our fixtures against Genk, and while we might have hoped that the players had begun to adapt to their increased playing schedules, we’ve only gone onto win one game following a European fixture since the New Year, against Aston Villa back in March.
We went out to Lyon and came away with a resounding 3-0 victory, only to be held to a draw by Burnley at the London Stadium.
The team then went on to secure a famous victory against Sevilla, but were subsequently dismantled by Tottenham in an exhausted and wearisome performance in a game that we usually go out all guns blazing for. It’s understandable of course – nine out of the 11 starters who played against Tottenham had given their all for 120 minutes against Sevilla just three nights previously.
David Moyes is always reluctant to shuffle the team around and doesn’t seem to trust many of the players on the periphery of the first team to get the job done in the league, meaning the same players have been called on time and time again.
‘Thursday-Sunday football has always proved to be really difficult for us or any clubs in the Europa League. I have to give great praise to the players for how they have coped with it for the majority of the season,’ Moyes has said.
Strength and depth
While it’s impossible to compare ourselves to top teams like Liverpool and Manchester City based on the strength and depth of their squads, they are the benchmark in which most clubs should look to emulate — both teams often compete in three or four different competitions throughout the entire season.
Guardiola and Klopp are not afraid to shuffle their teams around to make sure that their players stay fresh, though this is not a luxury that David Moyes has been able to enjoy this season, in part due to his reluctance to maintain a large squad and invest in signings in the January transfer window.
Players such as Alex KrÃ¡l and Nikola VlaÅ¡iÄ‡ have failed to make the impact that Moyes would have hoped for since joining the club, meaning workhorses like Declan Rice and TomÃ¡Å¡ SouÄek have had to play at every given opportunity. In the latter’s case especially, SouÄek has looked exhausted following two long campaigns, last summer’s European Championships, and regular international football.
Poor run of form
Our form going into our game against Frankfurt had been cause for concern, and an uninspired performance against the German team led to a first-leg defeat in the Europa League semi-final. An opportunity to then move back into sixth-place in the Premier League came and went in a less-than-stellar display against Arsenal, who comfortably contained us to keep their Champions League dream alive.
We’ve been somewhat lucky that Wolves and Manchester United have also had their own struggles this season, or else we’d have likely dropped out of the European race altogether by this point. With less time to prepare midweek, the additional fixtures that we’ve been playing in Europe has given our opponents time to regroup while we focus on other matches in between.
While our league campaign has faltered over the last few months, let’s hope that Moyes and the boys will be able to secure European football for the Hammers for the second consecutive season, using this season to learn from our experience so that we can prepare for the difficulties of fighting on multiple fronts going forward.