Faltering start puts Moyes under early-season pressure at West Ham

It will be of little consolation to David Moyes that his gloomy prediction has come true. “If we’re going to play like that we’re going to be challenging in a different part of the league,” Moyes said after a limp 3-1 defeat by Brighton on the final day of last season saw West Ham miss out on Europa League qualification. “I won’t have them if they are going to play like that.”

There was no holding back. Qualifying for the Europa Conference League felt like a meagre reward following a campaign of such great promise and Moyes was not blind to the warning signs. He could not afford to be sidetracked by West Ham finishing seventh and reaching the last four of the Europa League. The fact is that the team’s momentum in the league had slowed after Christmas, a lack of depth proving costly, and as Moyes opened up at the Amex Stadium he sounded like a man who knew that it was time to make some ruthless changes.

Worryingly, though, those home truths have not been followed by an improvement. West Ham sit 18th after taking four points from their first seven games of this season and are flirting with danger. The goals have dried up, a sturdy defence has become leaky, and although the notion that Moyes could be under threat may seem absurd he will be on shaky ground if results remain disappointing up to the World Cup. Such is the reality of modern football.

Moyes has done an outstanding job since returning to the London Stadium in December 2019, but West Ham were the third biggest spenders last summer. Expectations have grown. History suggests that David Gold and David Sullivan stick by their managers, but what about Daniel Kretinsky? The Czech billionaire became West Ham’s second largest shareholder last November and his arrival has led to greater spending, heightening the suspicion that Moyes could soon be fighting to save his job.

Admittedly bad luck has contributed to West Ham’s toils. They were profligate when they lost to Nottingham Forest, the better side during their draw with Tottenham and only denied a point against Chelsea by a ridiculous VAR call. They could argue that they are in a false position. Yet West Ham, who need a win when they host Wolves this evening, are not playing well. Even Moyes said his regulars let him down following the 1-0 defeat at Everton earlier this month. The generous response would be this is a side in transition. A more critical one would be that things have grown stale.

There is certainly a view that Moyes’s style – a low block, plenty of physicality, speedy counterattacks – has become predictable. But Moyes clearly wants to smooth out his side’s rough edges. Distribution from the back should improve once Nayef Aguerd, a centre-back who joined from Rennes in the summer, recovers from a long-term ankle injury. West Ham, who have only scored three league goals, will also hope to be more incisive once Lucas Paquetá, at £51m their record signing, has adjusted to the pace of English football.

Equally, Moyes must prove that he can work with Paquetá. The former Lyon midfielder arrived at the end of August and there was a sense that West Ham were not ready to hit the ground running when the season started.

There was frustration when no new signings started against Manchester City on the opening day. Could there have been more urgency? Aguerd and Alphonse Areola, the No 2 goalkeeper, were brought in quickly, but was too much time wasted on doomed pursuits of Jesse Lingard and Filip Kostic?

True, it is not West Ham’s fault that Aguerd’s absence left them with one fit centre-back at the start of the season, necessitating a move for Thilo Kehrer. Yet the former Burnley winger Maxwel Cornet could have been signed sooner. Meanwhile, Gianluca Scamacca, signed for £31.5m to provide welcome competition for Michail Antonio up front, has only started one league game and does not appear to be on the same wavelength as his teammates yet.

It is not ideal, particularly as Moyes’s stalwarts are struggling. Jarrod Bowen is yet to score a league goal and Vladimir Coufal has been iffy at right-back. Pablo Fornals and Saïd Benrahma need to do more. Tomas Soucek’s struggles in central midfield are a major part of their increasing inability to keep possession. Yet West Ham did not bring in a new partner for Declan Rice. Soucek has looked weary for a while, but Flynn Downes has barely featured since joining from Swansea and appears to be one for the future.

West Ham are not in a position to wait. They have put themselves under pressure. Moyes, who needs his underperforming players to rediscover their resilience, needs a response. He clearly deserves time given the progress they have made under him, but football is rarely fair. Memories are short and the speculation will only grow louder if West Ham fail to beat Wolves.