West Ham would have spent the past week in Seville had everything gone to plan. Instead they were thinking about what might have been when the Europa League final took place without them at the Sánchez-Pizjuán on Wednesday, the regret gnawing away at them as Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers slogged it out for 120 minutes before the Bundesliga side won the trophy on penalties.
It will go down as a huge missed opportunity for West Ham. The final was a memorable event, with victory a wonderful achievement by Eintracht, but by common consensus the standard was not high. West Ham had seen better during their European run. Sevilla had offered more quality when they lost to David Moyes’s side in the last 16. Lyon, who were well beaten by West Ham in the quarter-finals, had looked more refined than Oliver Glasner’s awkward Eintracht side.
But that’s knockout football. West Ham rattled Manchester City in the Premier League last weekend but they had only themselves to blame when they lost their Europa League semi-final to Eintracht. They made silly errors in key moments and never recovered from conceding in the first minute of the first leg, Moyes’s decision to match Eintracht’s 3-4-2-1 system backfiring when Pablo Fornals drifted off in his unfamiliar left wing-back role and let Ansgar Knauff give the German side an early lead.
That goal set the tone for the tie. West Ham hit the woodwork three times when they lost the first leg 2-1 at the London Stadium and their exit was inevitable when Aaron Cresswell received a foolish red card 19 minutes into the return game in Frankfurt.
The details went against them, ending their hopes of European glory and chances of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. Everything felt out of step.
At the start of the season West Ham had four senior centre-backs but only one, Craig Dawson, was fully fit against Frankfurt. Angelo Ogbonna has been out since November, Issa Diop injured a foot against Burnley on 17 April and the defensive balance was not helped by Moyes gambling on Kurt Zouma, whose unsteady performance after rushing back from an ankle injury had an unsettling effect on Cresswell at left-back.
In a sense that sums up their campaign. They are guaranteed to finish no lower than seventh, will be playing some form of European football next season and head to Brighton on Sunday afternoon knowing victory could see them qualify for the Europa League again and push Manchester United into the Europa Conference League.
Equally, West Ham could have achieved more. Should they be below a team as chaotic as United? West Ham were in the top four for long spells but they have been wasteful. Failures to beat Brentford, Burnley, Southampton, Brighton, Newcastle and Leeds at home have proved costly. Narrow late defeats to Chelsea and United were avoidable.
The lack of depth, exacerbated by playing in Europe, has not helped. But that is on West Ham. The last two windows have been questionable. Zouma was a good signing last summer but Nikola Vlasic has not improved the attack since his £25.7m move from CSKA Moscow and Alex Kral, who was signed on loan to provide back-up for Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice in midfield, is heading back to Spartak Moscow.
There is not enough quality behind a strong starting XI and the league form dipped after West Ham made no signings in January, even though they needed a striker to take the load off Michail Antonio.
That struggle to push on is why Rice has no intention of extending his deal before it expires in 2025. West Ham do not expect to sell their captain this summer but his eventual departure looks inevitable. Rice needs to be playing in the Champions League and if West Ham have any hope of keeping him they have to be smart and ambitious this summer.
It is a pivotal period for Moyes and Rob Newman, the club’s new head of recruitment. West Ham, who hope investment by the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky will increase their spending power, must get it right. A striker is a must, with Moyes targeting Ollie Watkins and Armando Broja. With Kral going and Mark Noble retiring, a central midfielder is also required. Moyes would love to sign Kalvin Phillips or James Ward-Prowse, while he is also hunting for reinforcements at left-back, left wing and centre-back. Alphonse Areola, who appears to be Lukasz Fabianski’s long-term successor in goal, will make his loan from Paris Saint-Germain permanent.
Moyes is building and West Ham are moving in the right direction. They could end the season on a high if they finally beat Brighton, who have not lost to the east London club since going up in 2017. It would open up the prospect of finishing sixth for the second season running, and while that would not make up for the disappointment of losing to Eintracht it would be another demonstration of West Ham’s determination to break the dominance of the big six.