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Five reasons to be concerned following West Ham United’s start to the season

Jake Jackman

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West Ham

West Ham United have recovered after losing their first three matches of the season, but there are still problems that they need to address if they are to move up the Premier League. They are currently on seven points from seven matches, which placed them in 15th position, only two points above the relegation zone. This is too close for comfort and there are plenty of reasons for supporters to be concerned about this campaign.

Constant speculation regarding Slaven Bilic

It is clear that the West Ham manager doesn’t have the full backing of the board, as rumours regarding his future arise after every defeat. The mixed messages in the media aren’t helpful to the team and that is evident every time a match is played. Before the Tottenham game last month, the Independent reported that the Croatian was fighting to save his job, whereas after the win against Swansea City, the Evening Standard suggested that he would get until the end of the season.

It seems that the board’s position on their manager changes with every result and that isn’t a great way to run a football club. Bilic can’t plan for the long-term and that will hinder the development of players. There isn’t a motivation to experiment and give young players a chance, as he needs to regularly pick-up positive results. If the board don’t see him as the man for the job, they should act now, as the current situation is damaging to the club.

The regular changing of tactics

The one criticism levelled at West Ham during the summer was that their recruitment was completed on name-value rather than the club bringing players in to fit the club’s identity. The Hammers currently lack an identity and there is no consistency in selection. Already this season, the club have used 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 and 4-4-2. Slaven Bilic doesn’t know his best team or even the formation that best suits the players at his disposal.

Chicharito was considered a good signing by the majority. Although he has scored three goals, he has struggled to find his stride at the London Stadium. He has been used as a lone front-man, as a wide forward and as part of a strike-partnership. It is near impossible for the Mexican to adapt to the team as he could find himself moved into another role at any point.

An ageing defence

West Ham have conceded 13 times in the Premier League this season, which ranks as the second-worst defence in the division. That is a concerning statistic at this early stage and one that suggests the team are set for a year battling towards the bottom of the league. Pablo Zabaleta and Jose Fonte have both arrived at the club this year. Although they have both had great careers, they are the wrong side on 30 and their lack of mobility has been targeted this season.

This is problematic area for the Hammers, as they have a clear weakness for opposition teams to target on the right-hand side of their defence. Opposing teams will look to deploy quick players in that area of the pitch and on recent evidence, West Ham won’t be able to cope with it.

Joe Hart’s lack of confidence

The loan signing of Joe Hart was always going to be a risk and like the rest of their signings, it was made on name value. Adrian has had his critics, but in current form, the on-loan Manchester City goalkeeper isn’t a substantial upgrade. There have been signs of poor keeping already from the England international, with a clear weakness in saving shots to his left-hand side.

Due to his status in the game, it will be difficult for West Ham to drop the keeper, even if he doesn’t shine on the pitch. The club will be hoping that a clean sheet against Swansea City will boost Hart’s confidence as there is no rhyme or reason for his decline. It must be confidence-related, but until he improves, he is an error waiting to happen.

Manuel Lanzini’s injury problems

After the sale of Dimitri Payet, it was expected that Manuel Lanzini would step up and fill the void. The Argentine has been struggling with injuries at the beginning of the campaign and has only played 73 minutes in the Premier League. Last season, he was one of the better performers in a poor team, as he scored eight goals and contributed two assists. His drive and creativity from midfield make the Hammers much more threatening in the final third.

The midfielder tried to come back against Newcastle United at the end of August, but suffered another set-back that saw him miss the majority of September. He returned during the match against Swansea and supporters will be hoping that he can stay fit from now. That seems a huge ask for a player that has yet to properly start his season.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Leicester City

West Ham and Leicester should pounce for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri

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Photo: Getty Images.

One player certain to be on the move this summer is Stoke City midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who will put an end to an unhappy spell at the bet365 Stadium, but could still stay in the Premier League to West Ham or Leicester.

Sky Bet offer odds as low as 1/10 that Shaqiri will depart this summer, with West Ham the leading Premier League club in the betting at 8/1 and Leicester City not far behind at 10/1.

That’s not to say that a stay in England is certain, particularly given that the two Milan clubs are favourites with Inter at 6/1 and AC Milan at 13/2, with Lyon also in the running at 8/1 level with the Hammers.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The winger has not hidden his disappointment with the team’s struggles this season and the Potters now face an uphill battle if they are to avoid relegation from the top flight.

The Swiss international will not entertain the idea of playing second tier football after a decorated career has previously seen him play for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Having failed to live up to expectations since Mark Hughes brought him to England in 2015, he may be keen to make the move abroad, but with finances likely to be more attractive to remain in the Premier League he may not rule out such a move.

Leicester could be forced to sign a replacement for Riyahd Mahrez whilst West Ham will also be looking for options out wide when Joao Mario’s loan spell comes to an end.

His pace, power and strength could catch the eye of both sides but they will have their work cut out to convince him to remain in England this summer.

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Everton

Liverpool fans will love who are favourites to sign Mario Balotelli

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Mario Balotelli
Photo: Getty Images.

Mario Balotelli is not a man who conjures up fond memories for Liverpool fans, but that could all be about to change if the betting is accurate in forecasting where he could move if he leaves OGC Nice this summer with one Premier League side leading the race to bring him back to England.

Whilst Serie A sides are the frontrunners in the betting to sign Mario Balotelli, there are also several English clubs in the mix, based on odds offered by Sky Bet. Favourites are the side that Liverpool fans would both find hilarious and dread in equal measure: Everton.

Odds on the controversial Italian moving to Goodison Park this summer are as low as 8/1, whilst West Ham are also in the running at 12/1.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The centre forward picked up more yellow cards, seven, than goals, four, during his time on Merseyside but has scored 39 goals in 61 games for his new club in France and insists he’s a new, mature man.

Italy still seems his most likely destination with Napoli and Juventus leading the odds, but a move to Everton would give Balotelli the chance to either redeem himself with Liverpool fans by failing as much as he did at Anfield, or rebuild his reputation in the country where he made his name with Manchester City.

The Toffees are desperate to add firepower up-front, but having been so disappointed by their business last summer it is hard to see how taking a gamble on a player as volatile as Balotelli would be a wise move.

That said, they know that the quality is clearly there within the player and may have the same hope as Brendan Rodgers did when he signed Balotelli for Liverpool, that they can bring him in cheap, get the best out of him and sell him on for a profit.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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