West Ham United sits in 18th place in the Premier League. The Hammers are in the relegation zone. Again.
Any elation leftover from West Ham's seventh-place finish last season has given way to explicit concern after collecting just four points through the first seven games this season. Thoughts inevitably turn toward memories of the 2002-03 and 2010-11 seasons, both of which ended with the Hammers being relegated to the Championship.
Is Hammers manager Slaven Bilic to blame? Swansea City, which is ahead of West Ham in 17th place on goal difference, sacked Francesco Guidolin and replaced him with American coach Bob Bradley. Swansea felt a change was necessary. Will the hammer fall on Bilic so soon after flirting with so much hope and success?
Let's assess the job Bilic is doing after 45 Premier League games in charge over the last two seasons.
The Hammers finished tied with Arsenal for forth in goals scored last season with 65. West Ham has scored eight goals in its first seven games this season, which leaves it on pace for 43 goals. Coincidently, the Hammers scored 43 goals during the 2010-11 season in which they were relegated.
Where have the goals gone?
Bilic favored playing a 4-3-2-1 formation last season that conceded possession for the most part and relied on pressing with a high line. The Hammers are still in that 4-3-2-1 formation for the most part, but the high-line pressing has not materialized yet this season with any effectiveness. Forward Andre Ayew, the club's record signing this summer, was just 35 minutes into his Hammers' debut when he suffered a thigh injury against Chelsea. Ayew has been out ever since, and his absence could be the catalyst in the inability to match last season's high-line intensity. Injuries are an unfortunate reality but it's also out of Bilic's control. Creating a system that produces goals and energetic performances falls squarely on Bilic though. There is plenty of attacking talent in the side (Dmitri Payet, Simone Zaza) logging inconsistent performances, mostly on the effort side.
The Hammers have conceded a league-high 17 goals this season; that leaves them on a pace to concede 83 goals, which would make survival impossible, just ask Derby County, which conceded 89 goals in the 2007-08 season and secured relegation by March. When the mixed drink is heavy on goals conceded and light on goals scored, the final concoction usually ends in relegation.
The Hammers have rallied from a desperate position before to save their Premier League hide from relegation (2006-07 season's furious finish, winning seven of their last nine games, including wins at Arsenal and Manchester United); they have also been relegated, including a bottom-table finish in 2010-11 that saw Avram Grant sacked hours after his first season was complete.
Bilic may find himself managing this season in both scenarios; he may also be on the outside, looking in, as a television pundit, too, if the Hammers feel a change is necessary to immediately arrest any further drop in the table this season. Bilic, by way of last season's seventh-place finish, has likely earned the chance to see it through this season but with one-fifth of the season already gone, every point becomes important. If the Hammers continue to drop points and regress, Bilic might be sacrificed to make progress.