West Ham United 2020/21 Season Review: Exceeding expectations as Hammers claim European Football
(Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

After a very poor 2019/20 campaign, a pre-season loss to AFC Bournemouth, a poor transfer window, which included the sale of Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion, and the opening day humiliation from the hands of Newcastle United, Hammers fans were not looking forward to the rest of the 2020/21 season.

But a newly invented passion within the squad which has been led by two summer signings, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal, saw David Moyes' men produce a record-breaking season as they finished sixth, qualifying for UEFA Europa League group stage, achieving their best-ever Premier League point tally.

"I think breaking the points total was something that we really hoped to do," Moyes said in an interview with whufc.com.

"It was a challenge when we heard what it was and we had a little bit of a dip just after the last international break, so it was great that we picked it up again and we’ve finished with a couple of wins which shows that the players kept it going right to the end."

But how did things escalate?

Transfer business

Coming off the early 2020 lockdown and break in Premier League football, the summer transfer window was always going to be the case of Moyes working with a very limited budget.

Firstly, a bunch of outs. Sead Haksabanovic left on a permanent transfer to join Swedish side IFK Norrkoping while Jeremy Ngakia, Pablo Zabaleta and Carlos Sanchez saw their contracts run out by the end of 2019/20 season.

Despite this, it was all starting to look good as Tomas Soucek joined the club permanently following a very successful six-month loan from Slavia Prague.

Then, a heartbreak struck. The highly-rated youth academy prospect, Grady Diangana, left the club to join West Bromwich Albion in an £18m deal, leaving both the fans and the players in a very negative look on their clubs future.

Soon, Jordan HugillJack Wilshere and Josh Cullen followed, with transfers to Norwich CityAFC Bournemouth and RSC Anderlecht respectively. 

Then, another bunch of outgoings as Albian Ajeti was sold to Celtic FC Xande Silva joined Aris Thessaloniki on a season-long loan and Roberto, probably for the better, left the club on a free transfer.

At this moment the fans started to worry. The lack of depth was apparent and the results weren't going their way either.

But it was all soon to change.

Vladimir Coufal, Craig Dawson and Said Benrahma have all joined the club in October, and all three will later prove crucial.

As one last summer transfer dealing, Felipe Anderson joined FC Porto on a season-long loan.

January started with the sale of their record-ever signing, Sebastien Haller, to AFC Ajax for around £22.5m, with the deal highly questioned by the fans as the only striker left was the injury-prone Michail Antonio.

And soon followed Robert Snodgrass, joining Diangana at West Brom.

But, at last, there was a signing to come that will help West Ham keep up their fantastic form.

After missing out on first-team football for the previous 18 months, Jesse Lingard had been handed a lifeline out of Manchester United. And the attacking midfielder took that chance spectacularly, contributing to 14 goals in 16 appearances for the Hammers

Is he going to stay permanently? We'll have to wait and see.

West Ham United's turning point of the season

On September 12th, in the first game of the 2020/21 season, West Ham faced Newcastle and the London Stadium. After goals from Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick and an overall dismal display from his team, David Moyes instantly realised that he needs to change something to not fall behind rapidly.

A week later, against Arsenal FC, the Scot put out a completely different set-up which included a change of formation, from a standard 4231 to a 523, with Arthur Masuaku fitting into the left wing-back position and Aaron Cresswell moving back into a left centre-back role.

It was a tactical set-up Moyes was familiar with already, as he'd already used it during his first spell at the club in the 2017/18 season. And it proved to be a hit.

Despite falling short by a late Eddie Nketiah goal against the Gunners, West Ham went on to gather 11 out of possible 18 points in games that included comfortable wins over Fulham FCLeicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, draws to Tottenham Hotspur and future league-winners Manchester City and a late loss to title-holders Liverpool FC.

And their form continued throughout the season as they rapidly climbed up the table into the top six, only leaving it for short spells of time.

West Ham United's Player of the Season

Despite there being many contenders, including Jesse Lingard, Declan Rice, Aaron Cresswell or Angelo Ogbonna, it comes down to two.

And while the Hammer Of The Year award is yet to be announced by the club, the winner will be chosen from the so-called CzechMates - Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.

But, if I had to pick one, it would be the former.

With 10 goals, 10.4 attempted aerial duels/2.7 clearances/2.1 tackles/1.6 interceptions per 90 minutes and a 53% tackle success the defensive midfielder was a driving force in the Hammers' midfield.

Both his attacking contribution with many crucial goals, as well as his defensive one, with over 1000 duels attempted, were key to West Ham's newly found on-the-pitch identity.

Most improved player

While Aaron Cresswell's numbers did significantly improve in comparison to the previous two seasons, there's been another player whose progress could well be what defined the Hammers' season.

Pablo Fornals had started the season on a back foot. With his subpar decision-making, the Spaniard was constantly wasting crucial chances to score.

But his will to improve finally saw him break the mould and, by the second half of the season, start performing on a top-quality Premier League level.

The midfielder managed five goals and four assists, including a crucial final-day brace to guarantee that Europa League football will come to East London in the 2021/22 season.