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West Ham and their flying start

westham-getty_3062645bThroughout last season, Sam Allardyce’s future as West Ham manager was constantly in doubt, as his tactics and poor results placed him under scrutiny, not helped by his employer David Gold’s ill-advised and frankly, idiotic, favoriting of a tweet calling for the sacking of Big Sam. Fast forward a few months and the former Newcastle and Bolton boss has presided over a brilliant start to the season for the Hammers, with four wins and a draw from their first seven Premier League games, including a resounding 3-1 defeat of Liverpool. Players who generally failed to inspire the team throughout the previous campaign have begun the current one all guns blazing, becoming a coherent attacking unit in the process.

If one is to pinpoint a reason for a side that seemed destined for mid-table mediocrity has started so brightly, one would firstly highlight the astute signings made by Allardyce. Rather than pursuing big names, West Ham knew who they needed in each position and proceeded to get them. The striker crisis, aggravated by continuous injury problems for star man Andy Carroll, was dealt with by the signings of former Birmingham man Mauro Zarate and, more importantly, Diafra Sakho, whose five goals in his first five games underpin how quickly the imposing, strong forward has adapted to the league. A lack of goals that plagued the Hammers last season seems to have been eased and when Carroll returns, Allardyce will be happy to have more options in attack.

In midfield, steel has been added in the shape of loanee Alexandre Song, perhaps the most important of West Ham’s signings, who has provided invaluable support just above the defensive line while giving more creative midfielders Mark Noble and Stewart Downing the freedom to advance further up the pitch. On his day, the Cameroonian is impossible to get through and looks every bit the midfield general he became at Arsenal.

Allardyce has also begun to get the best out of other players in the squad. Downing, playing in a more central role this season, has greatly impressed, playing influential roles in the wins over Liverpool and most recently QPR, enough for his manager to label him the league’s best midfielder on current form. While this particular heap of praise is debatable, it is without a doubt that Downing has certainly elevated his game to the levels that have been expected of him in the past. He now has the demeanour of a player who is truly at home at his club and has found a position that allows for a greater impact from the 30-year-old. Based on current form, Allardyce’s decision to deploy Downing in such a role seems a masterstroke, but only time will tell if the England international can maintain his good form.

Tactically, the East London side have become more flexible in the opening games, discarding the archaic long-ball method for which Allardyce has faced criticism (especially from Hammers fans) for a more aggressive, high pressing approach, a method that stopped a fluid Liverpool team right in its tracks last month while appeasing the Upton Park faithful, something that bodes well for the manager.