The 200% Premier League Pre-Season: West Ham United
And that’s your lot. This is the last of our annual pre-season Premier League previews and it comes courtesy of Richard Grinham. So, good luck everybody, and we’ll see you all on the other side.
All things considered, West Ham United are in a much better position going into the 2013/14 league season than they were at this point last year. A tenth place finish, alongside their newly promoted counterpart Swansea (who were exceptional), is a strong result for a first season back in the top flight – certainly one that Sam Allardyce wasn’t expecting. If they were initially a little lucky to scrape through the Championship play-offs in the first place, they have certainly shown that they are Premiership quality since then. It’s doubtful that many people expected them to get sent straight back down but I also can’t imagine many that people expected such a good final league position as they eventually managed either.
The club’s owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, continue to build for the future and they have shown their willing to make the funds available for the manager to improve their squad – putting their hands in their pockets several times over the last few months. The coaching staff have been notorious for their lacklustre attitude toward player fitness, especially at the beginning of a season, but – with West Ham’s preseason being regular and competitive – this also seems to be on the rise. Everything is slowly moving towards their proposed move to the Olympic Stadium so the club, and the fans, are aware of their structure for the coming seasons. Consolidation is key. They also managed to win all but one of the pre-season friends, suffering only a 1-0 loss away at Braga, which is an encouraging start.
The Hammers particularly struggled to get results last season, even when they out-performed their opposition, and this will be the key to their campaign ahead. They deserved more than a draw from both their games against Manchester United and can feel disappointed in their home defeats by both Tottenham and Liverpool. A change in fortunate could have given them 10 points from these games and a European qualifying finish. Upton Park was quite a fortress last season and we might well expect them to pick up more (or at least the same) points at home. The difficulty they face is with their away form – only getting thirteen points on their travels last year – which can, and should be, improved. Granted, it has been a quiet summer for West Ham United, but this is a club that is slowly introducing players into their squad that not only add depth, which they lacked last year, but also competition for places and some potential match winners.
Sam Allardyce has a good record of turning player performances around – both on and off the field – and he will be hoping to do the same with the new signing Stewart Downing as well as Andy Carroll who became a permanent squad addition earlier this summer. In fact the two of them had a developing relationship at former club Liverpool and he will be looking at the winger to provide the target man with plenty of opportunities in front of goal. The £20m outlay given to him by the owners, which has been spend on Razvan Rat, as well as the aforementioned men, has all but rubber stamped the route-one style that Sam Allardyce played last season. If Joe Cole can also shake the issues, that plagued him at the end of last season, then he can be one of the most influential players within the squad. Clever on the ball and able to play precision passes, he has the ability to change the game.
There hasn’t been any poaching of players that the Hammers would have rather kept hold of either. Carlton Cole left for pastures new but I doubt the team, or their supporters, will feel his loss. The returning Alou Diarra, who appeared to be on his way out of the club, adds quality and experience to the team the likes of a new signing for the club. Ravel Morrison is another of these returning ‘new signings’; after spending much of last season on load at Birmingham. The 20-year-old impressed in his twenty-seven appearances for the club, grabbing three goals along the way, and his many rave reviews appear to be warranted based on his pre-season form. Both of these players bring me back to my previous comments on their away form. Diarra particularly has a great vision on the ball and reads the game as well as any midfielder – if he can keep his performances up and stay loyal to the club then his contribution could be a key factor in protecting the defence, alongside Nolan, and launching an attack when playing away from Upton Park.
Expect plenty of balls dropped into the box from deep and wide positions with an over-reliance on Andy Carroll, who missed much of last season through injury. Don’t be fooled by West Ham’s impressive record in pre-season, we’re expecting an almighty scrap for Premier League survival this time around. This is a hard working team, with a ‘never die’ attitude which helped them through their first season back in the Premier League. Keeping this ethic around with the likes of Andy Carroll, should he come into form though, would provide a tough game for any opposition. And with the World Cup next year he should be working hard to bring back his best and grab an international spot.
We might expect Sam Allardyce to really push forward in cup competitions this year, and it would be hard to argue that these are not his best opportunities to perform something special. A fit and performing West Ham team can tangle with the best teams the league has to offer and we should probably expect them to dig their heels in again this season. It’s well documented that the Premier League is split into seven top teams, competing for the Champions League places; and thirteen others scrapping for the mid table. Next season will be an informative one for the supporters of West Ham United, if nothing else. Those who have wondered whether they can improve on their league finish, and become a stable mid-table team, will only have the next nine months or so to wait. By Christmas we should have an idea of their quality and whether the new squad additions fit into the mould they are developing. With a good opportunity to kick off the campaign strongly, and not playing any of the top six teams from last season until the end of September (and even then it’s at home), they could build some momentum early.
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