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.
West Ham should consider Quique Sanchez Flores in summer
The Espanyol boss is set to leave the club in the summer.
Reports in Spain today are suggesting that former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores would like to one day return to manage in the Premier League.
AS is reporting that Flores’ time at Espanyol is up and he will depart the La Liga side at the end of the season. The report continues to say Flores would love a return to England, where he managed Watford in the 2015-16 season.
So with Flores looking for a Premier League return, should West Ham take an interest?
The future of David Moyes at the London Stadium is far from secure. The Scottish manager was never a popular choice among the West Ham fans when brought in to replace Slaven Bilic. Whilst he has done well to guide West Ham away from relegation recent results have seen them slip again.
Rumours are rife that Moyes may not be in the West Ham job for the long haul and if he isn’t then Flores would be an excellent choice as the club’s new boss.
The Spaniard has a wealth of experience at clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Valencia. During his time at Watford he earned a reputation for playing attractive football and getting the fans off their seat.
His style of play is exactly what West Ham fans would like to see at the club and he is certainly a big enough name to draw exciting new recruits to the London Stadium.
A calming influence, Flores could be the perfect man to steady the ship should West Ham decide to ditch Moyes and start afresh in the new season.
No doubt the 53-year-old will be in high demand come June, so West Ham would need to swoop quickly if this was the case.
But if Moyes is given the boot, there are few better options for the West Ham job than Quique Sanchez Flores.
Injury gives Moses Makasi a chance to show West Ham what he can do
Antoni Sarcevic is out until April for Plymouth Argyle, giving West Ham loanee Moses Makasi a chance to shine.
West Ham United talent Moses Makasi might be about to get a prolonged experience of regular first-team football. Not with the Hammers, but with his loan club Plymouth Argyle.
The 22-year-old joined the Pilgrims on transfer deadline day but has since had to settle for a place on the bench. Plymouth, who are pushing for promotion in League One, had a settled side which Makasi could not break into.
Yet last weekend Makasi did get his first start. He featured in the 1-1 draw with Fleetwood Town, and scored on his full Football League debut.
Plymouth confirmed this week that the man keeping him out of the first team, Antoni Sarcevic, has suffered a groin injury. With the playmaker absent until mid-April it seems Makasi is going to get his chance. Plymouth boss Derek Adams stated to the Plymouth Herald:
“He (Makasi) came here from West Ham under-23s for regular football.
“To start with we had been playing well Sarcevic, Ness in that midfield with Fox and it was difficult for him to get in.
“He got his opportunity at Fleetwood and took it.”
For Makasi, it is a chance he must take. At 22 his time at West Ham is running out. The midfielder is still to feature for the Hammers first-team despite impressing with the under-23s.
An all-action midfielder the closest he has come to a West Ham breakthrough was a place on the bench v Burnley on the final day of the 2016-17 season.
Makasi turns 23 in September and West Ham will no doubt have to consider letting him go in the summer if he cannot prove himself. Sarcevic’s injury gives Makasi a chance to string together some regular playing time at a team in good form.
If Makasi can help Plymouth into the League One play-off picture in the weeks to come he will certainly give West Ham food for thought.
If not, then West Ham may decide that Makasi will be better off finding himself a new team in the summer transfer window.
Valued at £25m, Aston Villa and West Ham could have got Benjamin Pavard in 2016
The Stuttgart defender is wanted by top Premier League sides.
This week has seen Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard linked with a move to the Premier League. The 21-year-old is reportedly a target for both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Bild reported this week that the Bundesliga side will not be considering any offers below €30 million (£26.5million).
It is a fantastic rise up the ranks from the Frenchman. After coming through the youth set-up in France with Lille he headed to Germany in 2016. The youngster helped Stuttgart win promotion back to the Bundesliga where he has now been showcasing his best form. Such form saw Pavard even earn his first French international call-up.
For West Ham and Aston Villa, this progression signals a missed opportunity. Back in December 2015 it was reported by Goal that both West Ham and Aston Villa had made an approach to sign Pavard. The then 19-year-old right-back had caught the eye with Lille. Villa were battling relegation at the time and looked to strengthen their leaky defence. West Ham were looking to add fresh faces to their backline.
Neither side managed to get Pavard. In the end he joined Stuttgart for a fee reported to be in the region of €5 million (£4.5 million) by Le Monde.
Now that fee looks like an absolute bargain for a player who looks destined to be heading to the World Cup with France. Pavard would have been a shrewd addition by either Aston Villa or West Ham – but both sides missed out.
Now it looks as though a fee nearer to £30 million will have to be shelled out if one of the Premier League elite want to get their hands on the 21-year-old.
If only Aston Villa or West Ham had managed to get their man back in 2016.
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