Quick! Name the first two things you think of when I mention Sam Allardyce!
I’d hazard a guess that you said long ball football and Bluetooth headsets. Which would’ve been entirely fair, except Big Sam has been building something a little different to his usual formula at West Ham this season.
West Ham find themselves very much in the thick of it, they’re in touch with the European qualifying places, scoring goals and winning games.
The end of last season was a period of noisy discontent at the Boleyn Ground – and also briefly outside joint-chairman David Sullivan’s home as well, as an anti-Allardyce banner was draped artfully across the flower bed by his front gate.
But Sullivan and co-owner David Gold kept the faith in Allardyce, Teddy Sheringham arrived as attacking coach in May and they backed the manager and promised attractive, attacking football. Now, the pieces seem to be falling into place.
In Diafra Sakho they have a goalscorer. One who, having missed the start of January with a back injury, was withdrawn from Senegal’s African Cup of Nations squad and will stay with West Ham during this crucial phase of the season.
They also have a resurgent Andy Carroll, who since returning from injury in November has been playing like a man who is well aware of the point he has to prove. After two broken and bitty years at West Ham, the first on loan, the second as the subject of yet another big transfer fee, Carroll has finally found his fitness and found his rhythm. West Ham’s ten goals from set pieces are surely not coincidental considering the chaos that someone like Carroll can bring to a crowded penalty area – not a single one of those ten goals came direct from a free kick or from a penalty, they are all balls into the box. (West Ham players can take penalties mind you, including their gloveless goalkeeper, just ask Everton.)
Allardyce has been deploying two strikers for much of the season, and has not succumbed to the temptation of Carroll’s return by dusting off the ‘route one’ tactics charts. And why should he? West Ham have created more chances than Manchester United or high-flying Southampton this season. Stewart Downing is thriving in a central midfield role, with a clutch of assists to match Alexis Sanchez and Downing’s five league goals match Carroll’s much-lauded contribution.
So, the engine is whirring.
With Alan Pardew’s migration south from Newcastle to Palace, Allardyce became the second longest serving manager of a Premier League club. Joining on 1 June 2011, Big Sam is just three and a half years into the job, but he sits second on the list behind statistical outlier Arsene Wenger. There’s little by way of close competition, Brendan Rodgers is third, taking the Liverpool job exactly a year to the day after Allardyce joined West Ham.
West Ham have been a team in transition. A team finding its feet back in the Premier League after a breathless year in the Championship. Kevin Nolan was the heartbeat of that promotion-winning team, joining from Newcastle in the off-season and playing a similar advanced midfield role to Downing. Nolan still plays an important role, is still club captain and has had a run in the team since December, after making his way back following a shoulder injury. But the team around him is much changed, not the functional team that strong-armed its way to the 2012 Championship play-off final, but the product of a two season evolution into a competitive Premier League outfit.
There’s a lesson here. If Sullivan and Gold hadn’t kept their nerve in the summer, if they’d gone the way of so many other owners and pulled the cord early, we’d be watching a different story unfold. If the reward is success and stability, three and a half years really isn’t that long a time to wait.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Issa Diop’s presence at West Ham could spark a resurgence in Angelo Ogbonna
The newbie could strike up a strong partnership next term.
West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini is excited by the arrival of Toulouse defender Issa Diop, claiming his “pace and power” will suit the Premier League to a tee, in quotes via Sky Sports. But could his arrival also bare significance in sparking another quality defender back to life at in east London?
The record acquisition of the 21-year-old at the London Stadium (£21.9 million, Sky Sports), has been intended to revive a faltering back-line for the foreseeable future under the Chilean boss, but his presence could also elevate the performances of former Juventus regular Angelo Ogbonna.
The 30-year-old enjoyed a decent spell under David Moyes and ranked first for clearances made, was joint-top in shots blocked, third in aerial duels and third in pass completion with the Hammers back in February. And next season he will be targeting a key role in the defence, alongside the new boy.
Diop’s “pace and power” will be key for the Hammers’ rearguard next term, and alongside Ogbonna both could really flourish. They both employ a similar style of defending, using their physicality to defend on the front foot, and in theory, an understanding should develop relatively quickly.
If all goes well, and everything clicks between the two, West Ham could have a brilliant defence next term, with Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku providing the width either side of the two imposing centre-backs.
Tottenham should avoid move for Joao Mario after another average World Cup performance
The midfielder’s name has been touted around despite not turning in performances.
Joao Mario was highly thought of last summer, and his loan-move to West Ham from Inter Milan was touted as the potential deal of the summer. However, it quickly became apparent that was not the case after the Portuguese midfielder failed to make an impact in the Premier League.
It has become well known that Inter are trying to land Tottenham‘s star enforcer Mousa Dembele, after the player revealed his concerns over physical conditioning in the cut-throat pace of the Premier League, as he enters the latter years of his career (the Telegraph).
And Tuttosport claim that Mario is being readied in a make-weight offer for the Belgian’s services. But nothing thus far has suggested the 25-year-old is worth bringing to north London, and certainly not to replace such an immense midfielder.
Today won’t have helped the Italian’s chances of landing Dembele either, as Mario put in a typically tepid performance for Portugal in their 1-0 victory over Morocco. The majority of the team under-performed on the day.
Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Mario, but being in the shop-window of the World Cup, and with the eyes of a top Premier League club watching, you’d think now would be the time to elevate his performances. But again it wasn’t to be and he looked visibly dejected upon being substituted in the second-half.