On Thursday, August 25th, 2016, all eyes were not on West Ham. Cristiano Ronaldo had just won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, Manchester City signed Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and the Champions League draw took place. But eyes certainly should have been on the Hammers. They had played a fantastic season in 2015-16 to earn themselves an opportunity to qualify for the Europa League and all they needed to do was beat Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. But, the task of playing two times in the same week was just far too much for the Hammers to handle as they were knocked out 2-1 on aggregate after a 1-0 defeat at home. Although this will come as a great disappointment to the side that has ambitions of finishing top four this season, did they dodge a bullet by being knocked out of the 2016-17 UEFA Europa League before it even began?
West Ham are a growing team that still need time to develop. As of right now, they don’t have the squad to compete with the top Europa League clubs. Even with all of their new additions, Masuaku, Tore, Ayew included, they still don’t have what it takes to compete with the Sevilla’s, Villarreal’s of this world, apparently not even the Astra Giurgiu’s of this world as this is the second time in a row that they have been knocked out at the hands of the Romanian side. Although their physicality and brute strength could unsettle any team, the tactics involved with winning Europa League are far greater than West Ham are capable of right now.
Now without Europa League football, West Ham can focus solely on the Premier League and FA Cup and try again next season without having to worry about the extra stress of playing Thursday and Sunday every week. In recent years, we’ve seen good teams, go into the Europa League, make it far in the competition and as a result struggle in the Premier League. For example, Everton made it to the Round of 16 of the Europa League in 2014-15 but struggled to cope with the extra football as they limped to an eleventh place finish in the table. Similarly, Southampton struggled at the start of this season with the added pressure of playing every Thursday and Sunday, as they were not only knocked out in the Fourth-Qualifying Playoff Round of the Europa League but also won just one of their first six Premier League matches. This notion can even be seen with the Hammers themselves this season as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in their opening match and then limped to a 1-0 win after a late goal from Michail Antonio in their second match. If West Ham United were ever going to have a shot at playing European football next season in 2017-18, having to play in the brutally demanding Europa League this season would have been detrimental to that goal.
One negative of missing out on Europa League this season is that a player like Alexandre Lacazette surely won’t come to the club now but they are clearly still able to attract top level players with Champions League experience such as Arthur Masuaku and Havard Nortdveit. Even without European football this season, West Ham are still an attractive side that will be able to persuade top players to join them.
Slavan Bilic’s side is immensely improved from Sam Allardyce’s side that finished in 12th in 2014-15, and the rise is likely to continue this season. West Ham were never going to win the 2016-17 Europa League and now without European football, they can push on and work towards finishing in a Champions League qualifying spot next season. After a struggling start with the added pressure of the Europa League, West Ham will now be able to focus solely on the Premier League and as a result will finish higher in the table. The Hammers may just have dodged a bullet.