While there is every chance that this season’s’ top six will bear a distinctly familiar and predictable look come May, the race for seventh place and a potential Europa League place could be closer than ever.
Much of this can be attributed to the efforts of West Ham United, who have rebounded from a difficult season last year with some extremely impressive transfer activity this summer. After the club’s official website confirmed the stellar signing of former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez from Bayer Leverkusen, West Ham had added four high quality players to their squad at a combined cost of just £41 million.
With genuine balance to the squad the promise of at least one more signing to come, the Hammers could be well-placed to mount a European challenge this season.
How have West Ham strengthened this summer?
West Ham have strengthened every area of their playing squad this summer, starting with the year-long loan signing of Joe Hart from Manchester City. He has been joined by the gritty and experienced right-back Pablo Zabaleta, who also left the Etihad after being released on a free transfer at the end of last season. Then came the £25 million signing of Stoke City’s talented but enigmatic forward Marko Arnautovic, before the prolific Hernandez completed his return to England after two successful seasons in Germany for a fee of £16 million.
Suddenly, the Hammers squad boasts genuine depth and quality, with Hart and Zabaleta joining a defensive unit that also includes Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid and the former Southampton centre back Jose Fonte. The mercurial Arnautovic can also add flair and guile to an athletic midfield including skipper Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang, while the potential attacking combination of Hernandez, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio boasts movement, pace and power in abundance.
Beyond improving the balance and depth of the squad, however, these signings have also introduced proven quality and a winning mentality at Upton Park. Hernandez won two Premier League titles during his time at Old Trafford, for example, while he also contributed 37 goals and 12 assists in 103 league appearances for Manchester United. This was followed by a total of 28 goals and six assists in just 54 appearances for Leverkusen, underlining the pedigree of man who is almost guaranteed to deliver end product in the final third.
Hart and Zabaleta also won two league titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup while playing together at Manchester City, and this type of experience could make the Hammers a genuine force when the new season gets underway.
Are there more signings to come?
There may also be more signings yet to come at Upton Park, with Foot Mercato reporting that the Hammers are chasing the dynamic and versatile Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina. A strong and technically sound player who typically operates as the type of box-to-box midfielder that thrives in the Premier League, Lemina boasts tactical versatility and can can also play as a winger. His arrival would add yet another dimension to West Ham’s play, while enabling the club to switch between several systems and midfield shapes.
Whether or not Lemina joins has yet to be seen, but even without his arrival West Ham have enjoyed a fruitful summer and can lay claim to having achieved the best value for money of all Premier League teams. They have also added winners with proven Premier League experience to their ranks, enabling to hit the ground running when the season starts and compete more aggressively at the higher end of the table.
With a fortified defence, a diverse midfield and a more potent attack, West Ham are certainly the most likely to break into the top seven and challenge for Europe this season.