It’s easy to forget that this time last season West Ham were lining up as a newly promoted side. The Hammers comfortably survived, and never dropped below 14th place over the course of the season. Such mid table comfort in their first season back reflects the ambition of owners David Gold and David Sullivan, who invested heavily in the squad last summer with the arrivals of Andy Carroll on loan, and record signing at the time Matt Jarvis. With the permanent arrival of Carroll, and the legal battle over their move to the Olympic stadium finally over, it is an exciting period going forward for the club.
However, whilst the long term ambitions of the club are clear the present period, prior to moving in to the new stadium, is akin to treading water. A European push is possible, particularly if Roberto Martinez is slow to adapt at Everton, but the Irons are more likely to replicate last seasons mid table berth. Last season the side struggled to show any kind of consistency, failing to record back to back wins all season, although a five game unbeaten run towards the end shows shoots of hope. A frustrating side, the Hammers managed to take points from all of the top four bar Arsenal, but drop points against all the relegated sides, including defeats to both Wigan and Reading.
The starting 11 looks strong, but there is a lack of depth beneath that. If Andy Carroll continues his recent injury record, then the only cover for him is Modibo Maiga. Lacking a run of starts in his debut season Maiga is an unknown quantity, with only two league goals in 16 League appearances and with only two of those 16 appearances starts. In other areas, injuries to key players could also cost the side, with the defence also light on numbers.
The Irons have undergone a pretty good pre season, despite defeats to Mainz and Braga, and will be confident of hitting the ground running on Saturday against Cardiff, in what is the first game of a kind start to their second season back.
Last Season: 10th
Ins: Andy Carroll (Liverpool, £15m), Razvan Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk, Free), Adrian (Real Betis, Free), Danny Whitehead (Stockport, undisclosed), Stewart Downing (Liverpool. £6m)
Outs: Carlton Cole (released), Robert Hall (Bolton, undisclosed), Gary O’Neill (QPR, Free)
Not much really. Allardyce appears to have gone for quality over quantity in the transfer market, and after the success of last season who can blame him? The permanent signing of Andy Carroll, alongside the arrival of Stewart Downing, ensures that Allardyce has firmly cemented his way of playing. Uniting the pair went a long way to losing Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli their jobs at Liverpool, but at West Ham the pair are playing to their strengths rather than being a very expensive plan b.
Real Betis goalkeeper Adrián has arrived to provide competition for, and potentially a successor, to Jussi Jaaskelainen. Following strong rumours of a move last summer, West Ham have finally got their man at left back in the shape of Romanian international Razvan Rat. Already nicknamed Roland by his teammates, the Romania captain’s experience and leadership should help a side that lacked consistency for much of last season.
In other summer news, Danny Whitehead has joined Ian Hendon’s development squad from Stockport, whilst the release of the popular Carlton Cole signals the end of an era at Upton Park.
With the transfer window being used to tweak, the side are likely to line up in a similar formation to last season. With Allardyce’s style and summer recruitment, the side is likely to be direct, with pace and crossing ability in wide areas linking up with Andy Carroll in the centre. However it would be wrong to label West Ham as one a purely long ball side, and they are far from the one dimensional Allardyce media caricature.
Jussi Jaaskelainen will keep his place in goal, while ahead of him Razvan Rat gives the side the natural left back that was missing last season, despite Joey O’Brien’s best efforts filling in. Allardyce has a decision to make at centre back, picking between James Collins and James Tomkins to partner Winston Reid. Collins gained the spot from Tomkins last season, and is likely to start the season with the shirt.
In midfield, it looks like Mark Noble and Mohamed Diame will continue their central midfield partnership in a 4-2-3-1 cum 4-4-1-1, with Kevin Nolan playing in front of them. The Hammers have strength in wide areas, with both Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing both providing direct wing play and service to Andy Carroll. If Carroll can remain fit, then he will be relied upon for goals in a team so obviously built around his strengths. Both Jarvis and Downing have been the unfortunate recipients of the most chances created without an assist in recent seasons, and will be looking to Carroll to get on the end of their crossing. On the bench, Ravel Morrison has had an impressive pre season, and will be competing for the advanced and central midfield berths, with Jack Collison also competing for the latter. Joe Cole offers a different option to Jarvis and Downing in wide areas, whilst Ricardo Vaz Te must step up his performances in light of new competition in wide areas, or run the risk of becoming the forgotten man of Upton Park.
Best XI: Jaaskelainen Demel, Reid, Collins, Rat, Noble, Diame, Nolan, Jarvis, Downing, Carroll
Winston Reid. A rock at the back, the 25 year old centre back will be looking to build upon an impressive first season back in the Premier League. Having made the position his own in the Championship following a first season of limited opportunities, the Kiwi is now one of the first names on the team sheet. He became captain of his country last year, and was also named Hammer of the Season, with 45% of the supporters vote.
One to watch
Ravel Morrison. Morrison will be hoping that this is the year he finally fulfils his potential, following a blistering pre season that has seen him score six. Previously held back by the attitude that saw Manchester United give up on him, rumour has it he has returned from Birmingham a reformed character. Whether this reformation stands up to the pressures of the Premier League and positive comments from Roy Hodgson remain to be seen. He is likely to start the season on the bench, and faces a tough task in replacing stalwarts Kevin Nolan or Mark Noble in the Irons midfield, but could be one to watch if he carries on his pre season form.
Cardiff (H), Newcastle (A), Stoke (H), Southampton (A), Everton (H). The Irons couldn’t have asked for a nicer start, opening with five very winnable fixtures. August and September both look pretty easy, so sneak a Hammer or two into your fantasy football team early doors. The East London don’t face a top five side until October, when they take on Tottenham and Manchester City in consecutive games.
Where will they finish?
With little alteration to the side that finished a comfortable 10th in its first season back in the top flight, West Ham will be looking to secure another top 10 finish. If Andy Carroll can stay fit then a push for the Europa League could be outside bet, but the squad’s lack of depth could hold them back.
BPF Prediction: 9th