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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Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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