2013/2014 Season Preview

west-ham-maillot-2014

So here we stand on the eve of another Premier League season. Transfer activity for most clubs in England’s top flight has been eerily quiet, perhaps leading towards a calm before the storm.

Normal big spenders such as Chelsea have been relatively quiet, perhaps down to Jose Mourinho judging his squad to be for the most part sufficient bar a few parts here and there.

Manchester City have outspent their neighbours immensely, but not with the sort of jaw dropping fees we’ve become accustom too. Manuel Pelligrini also seems content to adjust rather than overhaul.

Tottenham have spent a considerable amount, especially considering years past, but with the transfer of Gareth Bale looming large over their heads perhaps its all going according to plan. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is one of the savviest performers in the transfer market, so one would be a fool to think he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Arsenal, for all the promise Ivan Gazidis made at the start of the window in regards to the bank being open for business for Arsene Wenger, have yet to make a single high profile signing. Wenger seems reluctant to dive in with gusto, perhaps due to being unfamiliar with the world of big money transfers.

And our beloved West Ham, where do we stand? In our opinion? On the cusp of a very promising season.

Sam Allardyce has assembled one of the best squads West Ham has had in a long time, brimming with creativity and steeliness in the middle of the park, pace and ability on the wings, a sorely missed confidence at the back and a battering ram of a striker at the front.

Allardyce was keenly aware of the weaknesses his squad possessed as last season came to a close. Left back, for all of George McCartney’s efforts, was one of the biggest.

McCartney is the kind of blood and guts player that seems to be disappearing from the game. He may not be the most technically gifted of players but no one is willing to give more than him.

Unfortunately we’re not in an era in the English game where that is good enough. Technical ability and fitness have become the new admired traits, and an ability to move forward with the attack and still track back wingers if you get caught out.

Romanian captain Razvan Rat provides that ability. A proven Champions League performer, multi time Russian and Romanian league winner and UEFA Cup winner, Rat is a considerable upgrade.

He is a great defender, able to keep the best the Champions League threw at him under wraps. What makes him an extra dimensional player is his ability going forward.

Rat and Matt Jarvis should provide a formidable left sided attack throughout the season. Rat is comfortable bringing the ball up the pitch, providing that little extra menace in the opponets half.

Stewart Downing’s signing provides a upgrade on the wings, one that perhaps we weren’t in dire need of but that will be a boost nonetheless.

It speaks a lot to the ambition of the club and the way top class players interpret that ambition, that Downing was willing to make the move to East London.

It also speaks to his desire to play and have an impact on the game. There are those players who would be completely comfortable collecting a massive wage packet and having to do sweet FA for it.

Downing isn’t that type of player and has never been shy of a bit of hard graft. Much like Andy Carroll, Downing was bought for a system that is no longer instituted by Brendan Rogers at Liverpool.

Their loss is our gain as Downing has shown signs of brilliance throughout his career. One just has to hope that West Ham is the place he finds it once again, and maintains it throughout the course of a season.

Other players were likely to see play from the wings are last year’s record signing, Matt Jarvis, promotion hero Ricardo Vaz Te and Joe Cole in his first full season back at the Boleyn.

Jarvis didn’t quite live up to the expectations that come with the price tag attached to him, but near the end of last season he seemed to be consistently improving. Hopefully this season he regains the inspired form he displayed at Wolves.

Ricardo Vaz Te is an enigmatic player, prone to hot and cold spells. He was magic after coming in January of our Championship adventure but seemed to have a serious dip in form last season. More of a inside forward than winger, it’s plausible West Ham may keep him around in an emergency striker role. Still, doubts over whether he’s Premier League quality plague him.

And as for Joe Cole? After a brilliant homecoming against Manchester United in the FA Cup last season Joe was restricted to eight starts, with two goals and three assists to his name. Even if he cannot stay healthy, with seems likely at this stage in his career given his past history, he still provides a spark of creativity whenever available.

Andy Carroll! What a promising signing he is for the club.

We’ve discussed in depth our views on the transfer in an earlier article, but our views on the signing can be summed up with one word: excitement. Carroll was showing signs of finally finding his rhythm in Big Sam’s system in the second half of last season.

If he can continue on in that vein of form after his return from injury, the season ahead is a very promising one. That said, we do not enter it without our concerns.

Carroll’s fitness record isn’t exactly a shining one and the lack of a reliable second striker is a bit of a worry. Allardyce obviously saw something in Modibo Maiga when he was signed last summer, though he never really received the opportunity to shine last season.

In pre season he looks to have steadily progressed, getting better with each passing game. But he’s still displayed a lack of finishing prowess that is the reason for so much of the doubt.

In, arguably, the toughest league in the world you need confidence in your striker to take the few chances that present themselves through the course of a match. Maiga doesn’t do that right now, but we’d all love to be proven wrong.

Adrian was a free signing along with the aforementioned Razvan Rat, and provides a high quality backup for Jussi Jaskaleinen. He spent last season as Real Betis’ first choice keeper, and it’s not out of the question he might end up challenging Jaskelineen for his spot.

While Jussi was one of the top performing and most reliable players we put on the pitch all last season, there was still the odd error. Whether that was down to inevitability or a bit of comfort knowing he was first choice he is now surely aware that Adrian is eagerly awaiting his chance to cement his place.

Another player hoping to get his chance to cement a regular place is the highly regarded Ravel Morrison. Long considered one of the most promising youngsters Manchester United’s academy has produced in some time, Morrison ended up at West Ham once Sir Alex had enough of the problems Morrison always seem to drag around with him.

It was looking unlikely West Ham would prove to be much different for the youngster, heading out on loan to Birmingham City in his first full season with the Hammers.

After making a slow start Morrison’s quality started to rear its head. That has continued into this pre season, where he’s shone throughout. While in all likelihood it’s too soon for him to be a starter, he certainly looks capable of taking any substitution opportunities and turning it into a starting role.

Of course the quality possessed in midfield is his major obstacle, and a problem we’re lucky to have. With the likes of Mark Noble, Mo Diame and Kevin Nolan almost cemented into place in the midfield we possess the sort of reliability every manager craves.

Diame was undoubtedly the purchase of last year, getting him on a free being an incredible bit of business on the clubs part. A roaring box to box presence, he almost single handedly took Chelsea apart and the squad looked lost without him during his injury lay off.

Alou Diarra was another one of last season’s purchases, one that looked very promising at the time. Things went sour between him and Sam though, and he was shipped off to Rennes on loan.

He’s been a fixture all pre season, and its possible that if he’s turned his attitude around he’ll be like a new signing. Capable of protecting the back four and moving the ball forward intelligently, he could play a big role this season.

We began at the back in the squad review and we’ll end at the back. Centre back is in the same state as it was last season, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Winston Reid proved himself to be one of the most reliable centre backs in England last season, a shocking development after his form in previous years. Never had he shown he was capable of the class he displayed throughout last season, but what a fantastic surprise it was.

His partner at the back, James Collins, was not quite as reliable but it was mostly a happy homecoming for Collins. While still showing signs of being error prone at times, he proved to be far more reliable than the likes of Matthew Upson.

James Tomkins had shone throughout the Championship promotion campaign and looked ready to cement his place in the starting XI. But after playing for Great Britain at the Olympics and coming back a bit knackered Big Sam seems to have soured on him.

What was initially met with indignation by most supporters quickly proved to be the right choice for the squad, as Collins and Reid were a formidable pairing. Tomkins provides a quality third option should things go downhill or an injury rears its head.

Right back is an area with room for improvement, Guy Demel being much like McCartney in that he’s capable of doing the job but not at the level necessary of him.

He’s far from the worst option to have, and does a good enough job, but one would expect Sam to be making an upgrade in January if the funds become available.

If his form does go downhill, Allardyce will likely look to the always reliable Joey O’Brien. While not of the quality of a guaranteed starter, he’s able to cover positions across the back four and do it well enough. The sort of player every squad needs.

Don’t be surprised to see young Danny Potts make a few appearances either. He was showing signs of promise last season while at Colchester and was recalled, going down injured after coming on as a substitute against Arsenal in January. Much is expected of the lad.

Now for the important part: how will we fare? While loads of fans have been moaning about the lack of transfer activity, especially with the moves of clubs around us, there is something to be said for stability and familiarity.

One only needs to look at QPR to see the folly that comes with attaching success to a bunch of signings. QPR signed a number of highly rated, expensive players last season. They’re in the Championship this season.

West Ham had a very disciplined, fit and talented squad last term. Adding the likes of Razvan Rat and Stewart Downing to the squad can only provide a positive benefit. They’ve increased the competiton for places and upgraded the overall quality of the team.

The lack of a second striker is by far the biggest question for this campaign. Will Maiga prove himself this season, or will he be gone before the window ends and replaced by another striker more suited to Sam’s system?

In our opinion we will finish ahead of last season, without the worrying dip of form in the middle of the season which we experienced last year. Players like Rat add a steeliness we were lacking at times, the ability to hold onto a win or fight for a draw.

Having the quality on the bench we have this season is also very promising. Especially on the wings where we now have players we can bring on in the last twenty minutes to run at defenders and create chances.

Dreams of a Europa League are a little premature, and a European adventure next season would likely be too much too soon. Allardyce is developing a very capable and well rounded squad, piece by piece, and if he continues at this pace European qualifying isn’t out of the question in the next 2-3 years.

For now another top half finish should be in order, playing a brand of football not regularly attributed to Allardyce. For all the talk of him being a long ball merchant, there were other managers doing far more of it last season. He also now has the likes of Joe Cole, Mo Diame, Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis all at his disposal.

We’ll be as deadly at ever from set pieces. Rarely was a time the club had a corner or set piece within their opponets half that the threat of Collins, Reid or Carroll nodding one in wasn’t lurking. Same goes for the ball being knockdown for a Kevin Nolan tap in.

The biggest factor in improving on last seasons position will come down to one thing: away form. We’ve been terrible away from home for years now, and if this is the year that finally gets turned around the club will be well set off.

Regardless, these things are always purely speculation aren’t they? That’s part of the fun (and sometimes agony) of being a football supporter. Everything can change at the first touch of the ball.

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