The Blog FC are previewing every English Premier League side ahead of the 2015-16 season. Who’s arrived? Who’s departed? What do they need this coming season? Who will be the key man? All of that, and more, is answered below, as Camilo Zannoni previews West Ham’s season ahead.
West Ham United
Manager: Slaven Bilic
Captain: Kevin Nolan
Ins: Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria), Stephen Hendrie (Hamilton Academical), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, Loan), Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira, Loan), Darren Randolph (Free Transfer).
Outs: Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), Dan Potts, Paul McCallum, Carlton Cole, Guy Demel, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Nene (Free Transfer), Alex Song (End of Loan).
Last Season: 12th
2014-2015 was… An improvement on the previous 13th place finish, but ultimately disappointing considering they were sitting in fourth place at Christmas. West Ham’s pre-season had been marred by calls for manager Sam Allardyce to get the chop, and he was tipped to be the first manager to bite the dust.
This never came to pass however, and Allardyce was given the difficult job of adjusting West Ham’s methods to a comprehensive passing game, rather than focusing on the pragmatic approach that generally befits an Allardyce football side. The direct approach was not carted entirely however. Having signed Andy Carroll for a hefty fee in the pre-season, it would’ve been considered madness not to play to the former Liverpudlian’s strengths. Unfortunately for the Hammers though, Carroll picked up yet another ankle injury, this time ligaments rather than tendons, which saw the (former) most expensive British signing sidelined for three months right when the club was preparing for the oncoming Premier League season. This was then compounded by damage to his medial ligaments in his left knee, which saw him go into surgery and miss out the crunch part of the season.
Had Carroll remained fit, it could have been a vastly superior narrative, but alas it was not. West Ham laboured home in the second half of the season to finish 12th – winning only three of their final 21 matches – and Allardyce was, in the end, sacked and replaced by Slaven Bilic.
2015-16 will be… As per usual, a hard slog. West Ham are still a year away from the much anticipated move to London’s Olympic Stadium, and as such, will have to bear the familiar weight of financial restriction, and the checked ambition of a top ten finish (and anything higher than eighth, in all honesty, is probably still a touch out of reach). It has been touted that Bilic’s primary target is the top eight and this should be achievable for a club with as much history and as strong a culture as West Ham, and with the club recently knocked out of the Europa League qualifying rounds there won’t be the “unwanted” and “unnecessary” distraction of European football.
With practically every team strengthening after last year, and the Premier League becoming more open and competitive with each year that passes, it will take all of Bilic’s resources to achieve his target. The upcoming season will realistically feature about ten teams that will be vying to occupy the top eight, and with certain managers facing the chopping block should they prove unable to provide stability, if not a glint of silver, it will be very interesting to see how Bilic handles the pressure inside the London bubble with what can be, at times, a fickle fanbase.
Key Player: Dimitri Payet. It may not be wise to rest the season’s success on a player yet unproven in the Premier League, however, with Stewart Downing headed back home to Middlesbrough, and more goals conceded than scored last term, it will be up to the French new boy to create the chances that the Hammers will be missing from Downing – who created the most chances in English football last season. If Payet goes that one step further, mirrors the outrageous 17 assists he came up with in his final year at Marseille and links up with a quality striker, West Ham may just pose some questions in the upcoming season, and preface their big-money move to the Olympic Stadium; which, in time, could prove to be a big play towards Champions League qualification. Which brings us to our next question…
What, or whom, do West Ham need? Goals. As mentioned earlier, the Hammers conceded more goals than they scored last season (47 to 44), and for a club of West Ham’s stature and ambition, this is simply unacceptable. Having signed Andy Carroll for approximately £15m , a former England international who is unplayable on his day, it is absolutely crucial that he begins to show some of that form for West Ham that he did when signed by Liverpool for a neat £35m all those years ago.
Diafra Sakho had a somewhat successful haul, scoring ten in the league and one in each cup, however the next highest goal scorer was Downing, who managed just six all season. Various media outlets suggest that Bilic is desperate to sign a striker before the season commences, and with the final day of registrations looming for the opening weekend, it is definitely an area that must be addressed if West Ham are to find themselves in the top eight ahead of the likes of Swansea, Crystal Palace, and Stoke, who have all recruited well in the off-season.
The Blog FC Predicted Finish: 13th