Thursday night did not follow the script that West Ham United and manager Slaven Bilic had in mind. After a strong English Premier League season in 2015-16, the Hammers were saying goodbye to their longtime home at the Boleyn Ground and starting a new era in London’s Olympic Stadium.
The club were set to make a strong push higher up the league table, in front of a larger capacity crowd and bring Europa League group stage action to their state of the art ground.
While the Premier League season has only just begun, we now know that the second part of those expectations will not be happening.
For the second consecutive season, Romanian side FC Astra Giurgiu have ended West Ham’s Europa League journey ahead of the group stage. With a 1-0 victory on Thursday night in London, FC Astra booked their ticket to the next round by an aggregate score of 2-1.
This is an incredibly disappointing result for West Ham this season. With a brand new stadium that ownership expected to host European competition, the club hierarchy will feel deflated in falling at this point in the tournament.
With starters Mark Noble and Dimitri Payet not playing in the second leg, the Hammers attack was unable to convert a myriad of chances throughout the contest. FC Astra, on the other hand, found a winning goal while only having 2 shots on target in the entire match.
We look at what Europa League elimination means for West Ham’s 2016-17 campaign.
INCREASED FOCUS ON LEAGUE PLAY
While elimination from the Europa League was not in the team’s plans this autumn, there can now be more focus paid to the coming weeks and Premier League matches.
Slaven Bilic was surely setting up strategies for squad rotation and resting players, and can now pay full attention to weekend fixtures. The absence of travel for the Europa League group stage matches will also no longer be an issue to fitness and fatigue.
IMPROVEMENTS IN GOAL SCORING MUCH NEEDED
One area that was practically begging to be addressed for West Ham United is more firepower in scoring goals. A disappointing series against FC Astra showcases why the Hammers will require more than just Payet, Enner Valencia, and Andy Carroll to find the back of the net.
The signing of Italian striker Simone Zaza should be a boost, but the squad will need to see a more consistent amount of goals scored moving forward.
RENEWED URGENCY FOR THE TOP 4 AND DOMESTIC CUPS
West Ham’s goal is certainly Champions League football and with a seventh-place league finish last season they came very close to achieving that objective. Now, the club finds themselves in a frustrating situation.
The Olympic Stadium move came with a chance to join the Premier League elite, and European qualification is an absolute minimum at this point and time. The Champions League or Europa League will need to be a part of West Ham’s 2017-18 season.
Whether the entry is gained through a league finish or one of the domestic cups, Slaven Bilic has an important season ahead with his squad.