The return of Slaven Bilic as manager with West Ham brought with it excitement and a sense of hope for the future.
Tactically savvy and with a respectable managerial CV, not least the superb job he had completed with his native country Croatia, Bilic’s appointment was met with optimism.
It hasn’t exactly panned out as promised.
From Europe to relegation
His managerial reign at West Ham got off to a superb start, beating Arsenal 2-0 away on the opening day of the 2015/16 season and the Hammers finished a respectable seventh in their last-ever season at Upton Park.
Other impressive performances in that campaign included victories away to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool and a 1-0 home win against hated rivals Tottenham Hotspur. The Hammers were about to go into their new home full of optimism.
However, it was a horrific first season at the London Stadium.
Dire performances and results and a tepid atmosphere at a ground that didn’t look fit for Premier League football had West Ham fans wishing they stayed at Upton Park.
Relegation became a real fear last season.
There were doubts over whether Bilic would remain in the job, but form picked up towards the end of the season and West Ham dragged themselves into 11th place, helped by the mid-table congestion.
The new stadium factor and the necessity of getting used to the surroundings meant Bilic and West Ham were granted that less than average first season to adjust.
More of the same
However, the same results and dire performances won’t be accepted in east London this year and West Ham couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
A 4-0 battering to Manchester United on the opening day was followed up by a 3-2 defeat to Southampton, courtesy of a reckless Marko Arnautovic red card and a last-gasp penalty. A 3-0 defeat at St James’ Park to newly promoted Newcastle just compounded the miserable situation the Hammers find themselves in.
It’s an all too familiar story under Bilic.
It has led to reports that the first home game of the season, against Huddersfield Town on Monday night, is Bilic’s last chance to prove he has what it takes at West Ham.
One game to save his job
The notion that managers are given one game to save their job is confusing. It gives the impression they want him out and its, therefore, only a matter of time before they pull the trigger.
Any side can win a football match on any given day, so surely the West Ham board will not base their decision on the outcome of this football match?
This kind of pressure is largely unnecessary for a side who are already struggling for confidence and goals.
Incoherent transfer policy
New signings Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta were once excellent Premier League players, but they’re now past their best.
Marko Arnautovic has one good game out of five and whilst Javier Hernandez is an excellent poacher, the West Ham side isn’t good enough to support someone whose sole purpose is to finish the occasional chance that falls his way.
The transfer business at West Ham has long been farcical for a while, typified by the owners’ frankly embarrassing exchange with the Sporting Lisbon chairman this week.
Although this does not have much to do with Bilic, there’s a real feeling he was unsure what player or profile he wanted to bring in. Each week, West Ham were linked with a host of new names they often failed to get over the line, each player with a different style and skill set to the other.
Skating on thin ice
This lack of cohesiveness and system is also apparent in the current West Ham squad. What are they, and what are they trying to be?
They lack the ball players to be a possession side or the organisation to be a compact, low block counter-attacking team. Whilst players are largely at fault for this, ultimately it falls down to the manager, and it is difficult to see a way out for Bilic.
Anything other than a win against Huddersfield will surely see the Croatian depart.
However, even a victory gives the impression he has taken another step on a tightrope that is getting thinner and thinner.
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