West Ham United will be embarking on their fourth consecutive campaign in the top flight since their return in 2012. It will be their first time not playing under the guidance of Sam Allardyce following his rather unceremonious removal and replacement by Slaven Bilic once the 14/15 season had come to a close. This will be the Hammers’ final season at The Boleyn Ground before they move onto the Olympic Stadium. They hoped to give it a fitting send-off as the club returned to European football for the first time since the 2006/07 season, but an early exit in the qualification rounds put pay to this ambition.
Story of Last Season
One word sums up West Ham’s previous campaign – inconsistent. The Hammers found themselves in the Champions League places at Christmas time after a blistering start to the season which saw them gain victories over both Liverpool and Manchester City. However, Big Sam and his men soon found themselves falling down the table before eventually finishing 12th after a poor second half of the season when compared to the first. The club’s cup endeavours did not fare much better as they were thumped 4-0 by West Brom in the fifth round of the FA Cup and were eliminated in the second round of the League Cup. The poor form of West Ham United after Christmas was ultimately the final nail in Allardyce’s coffin as the former Newcastle boss left the club and was replaced by Slaven Bilic.
Angelo Ogbonna – The Italian is a really encouraging signing for the Hammers for just shy of £8m from Juventus. Ogbonna could prove to be a key part of any success that West Ham may enjoy this season and his experience of playing in Europe will no doubt aid their Europa League campaign.
Dimitri Payet – The Frenchman is a player of real quality who just screams class. Payet was the star man at Olympique Marseille last term and led the French league in assists as well as Europe as a whole in terms of chances created. He could prove to be the creative spark that The Irons need to push further up the Premier League table.
Carl Jenkinson (Loan) – A return to West Ham for the young England man as he looks to build on what was a very productive season at the Boleyn Ground last time out. He recently signed a new 5 year deal at parent club Arsenal and will hope to prove himself to the new management at West Ham as well as to Arsène Wenger.
Pedro Obiang – The Spanish under 21 international midfielder has arrived on a 4 year deal in London and despite only being 23, has made 128 appearances for Sampdoria in Italy. He will provide a boost to the Hammers midfield and could prove a very useful acquisition.
Manuel Lanzini – A bit of a gamble at Slaven Bilic’s own admission due to Lanzini playing in the Arabian Gulf League for the past two seasons but his ability is not in doubt as he caught the eye of many as a youngster at River Plate. He has impressed in pre-season and could find himself becoming more involved as the season goes on.
Darren Randolph – A capable goalkeeper who; when the opportunity arose to move to West Ham from his previous side Birmingham, could hardly turn it down. A safe set of hands at number 2 and will fill the gap left by the departed Jussi Jääskeläinen.
Stephen Hendrie – The Scottish under-21 international arrived from Hamilton Academical this summer where he was a regular in recent seasons. The full-back has played a decent amount of football in pre-season and could be a useful signing for the upcoming campaign.
Dimitri Payet – Payet is a real creative spark who could be a real game-changer for the Hammers going into the upcoming season. He led Europe’s top leagues in chances created last season and will be a real boost to the West Ham midfield. His signature was a genuine signal of intent by Slaven Bilic as he forked out £10.7m to secure the Fremchman’s signature.
Angelo Ogbonna – This powerful and dominant centre-half has featured for Italy on 10 occasions. His European experience could prove crucial this season as the former Juventus man looks to make the centre-back position his own at the Boleyn Ground.
Aaron Cresswell – The star man for West Ham last season as his good form saw him become one of the bargains of the season following his move from Ipswich. If he can continue his good form under the new system of Slaven Bilic, then he will surely continue to grow his already rapidly expanding reputation.
This side clearly has bags of creative talent and pace which could cause many teams in the Premier League a great deal of trouble. It will be interesting to see if the fearsome looking midfield 3 of Sakho, Zárate, and Payet will be able to create chances for Andy Carroll; and Enner Valencia once he has returned from a multi-month lay-off, and not put too much strain on the defensive members of the squad.
One clear weakness in my opinion is that due to the attacking nature of each of the fullbacks it could become the responsibility of the very attack-minded midfielders to track back and do some dirty work.
Manager – Slaven Bilic
The former Croatia manager was a fan favourite during his time as a player at West Ham United. It was him and Marcelo Bielsa that were the main contenders for the vacant seat in East London towards the end of last season but it was the Croatian that was eventually appointed. The West Ham board acted quickly and made sure that Bilic had a full pre-season in which to put across his own philosophies. The ex-national team coach brings with him a willingness to play good football and this in no doubt along with his ambition allowed him to bring in the European talent that he has.
First Six Fixtures
Arsenal (A) – Definitely not the easiest of starts for the Hammers as they travel to North London to face against one of the favourites to win the league title and the current FA Cup champions. A real test for West Ham but on the opening day of the season you never know what might happen.
Leicester City (H) – The first home league game for West Ham in their final season at the Boleyn Ground. It will be interesting to see how the Foxes get on under Claudio Ranieri in their first game and I think the pace and creativity of West Ham will cause some real issues for Leicester.
Bournemouth (H) – This is one West Ham will be looking to do well in against the Premier League new boys from the south coast. The Irons will have to be wary of the talents of Ritchie and Wilson but should they weather this storm they will be in a good position to gain a positive result from this one.
Liverpool (A) – Another tough away day for the Hammers although they did beat Liverpool last season. You have to feel that Liverpool this time around will be much better than over the last 12 months and will provide a very tough test – especially at Anfield.
Newcastle United (H) – Another side with a new manager going into the new season, this time in the form of Steve McClaren. Home form will be crucial for the Hammers this campaign as they look to push up the division and you have to feel they will try their absolute best to make the Boleyn Ground a fortress over the coming months.
Manchester City (A) – Yet again, an incredibly difficult away day for West Ham as this time they travel to the Etihad. West Ham will be cursing the fixture list but they did gain 3 points in a 2-1 victory over City last season. That victory did come in London and Manchester City eased to a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture.
Overall, West Ham United have been dealt quite a difficult hand in their opening six outings, especially away from the Boleyn Ground. They will certainly be looking to pick up all nine points available from the games at home and would probably be happy enough with an additional point from those taking place elsewhere. If they can achieve this, then I believe it would be a successful start.
Final Standing Prediction – 11th
While West Ham have improved in a number of areas and the added incentive of this season happening to be the last to be played at the Boleyn Ground – a new manager taking the helm of a club is always a turbulent time as players learn new systems and new signings arrive. West Ham United’s pre-season preparation has been far from perfect over the past couple of months and an injury to star striker Enner Valencia could well take its toll, demonstrating how short the Hammers are in certain areas. Considering this, you can understand why this season may be one where domestic form does not greatly improve.
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