(Writer’s Note: This is the eighth of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)
WEST HAM UNITED IRONS
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini (Hire Date: May 22, 2018)
Tenure Length: 17th/20 in Premier League and 74th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 10-12-16, 42 points, 13th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 48
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-20
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 7 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2012
Last Relegation: 2011
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Quarterfinal loss (Arsenal)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Wigan Athletic)
West Ham was under the gun from the get-go, playing its first three matches outside London Stadium due to its usage for the 2017 World Championships in athletics and failing to get a single point from those contests. The pressure continued to mount on Slaven Bilic, who was finally sacked two days after a 4-1 loss at home to Liverpool on Nov. 4.
David Moyes was hired to stabilise the side, which was also an opportunity for the Scot to refurbish his image after failed stints at both Manchester United and Sunderland. The Irons were second-bottom after a scoreless draw against Arsenal on December 13, and the tide finally turned in their favour with points in seven of eight matches while going 3-4-1 and climbing to 11th.
West Ham then struggled once more, dropping four of the next five as the nadir came with multiple pitch invasions from disgruntled supporters in a listless 3-0 loss at home to Burnley on March 10. The fans turned on co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold during the match, forcing them from the directors’ box.
The Irons salvaged some pride with five points from the next three matches, which was enough to offset back-to-back 4-1 defeats to Arsenal and champion Manchester City. West Ham put gloss on its disappointing season with two wins in its last three matches and parted ways with Moyes after his six-month contract expired.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
Pellegrini will ring in the changes both in terms of formation and personnel as there could be as many as five new faces in the starting XI with the Irons now sporting depth after their spending spree this summer.
It starts at the back with Lukasz Fabianski, who is expected displace Adrian between the sticks. Arthur Masuaku might be the only holdover in the back as Pellegrini is expected to transition from a three-man back to four, with new signings Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena expected to form a partnership in central defense and Ryan Fredericks taking over for Pablo Zabaleta at right back.
Cheikou Kouyate could take on the defensive midfield role in Pellegrini’s 4-1-4-1 set-up, forming the bottom of the triangle with playmakers Jack Wilshire and Manuel Lanzini while newcomers Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko roam the flanks. With Andy Carroll again sidelined for an extended period of time, Marko Arnautovic will be the lone striker, with Chicharito Hernandez and Michail Antonio providing depth up front.
Pellegrini has depth throughout the three positions with Winston Reid, Declan Rice and Angelo Ogbonna on standby in defense and Mark Noble and Robert Snodgrass in midfield.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
Pellegrini’s arrival at West Ham has brought an opening of the purse strings the board had promised supporters with the move to the larger London Stadium from Upton Park as the side has spent over £80 million in the summer window.
The Irons set two club records in the transfer window, first spending £22 million on Diop on July 1 and £36 million for Lazio’s Felipe Anderson two weeks later. That is in addition to the £17.5 million splashed out for Yarmolenko from Borussia Dortmund and a pair of shrewd pickups on free transfers with oft-injured but highly talented Wilshire from Arsenal and Fredericks from Fulham.
Leaving no stone unturned in any corner of the world, West Ham also dipped into the South American market for Corinthians captain Balbuena, a £4 million signing which may have been a gateway to his teammate, striker and Paraguayan compatriot Angel Romero, who is rumoured to be in West Ham’s sights.
The spending spree also included £7 million for Fabianski, who had a disappointing World Cup for Poland this summer after being relegated with Swansea City.
With the influx of players, the Irons had to depart with Patrice Evra and James Collins, while Reece Burke moved to Hull City.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Jack Wilshire (MF)
There are many choices who could have been inserted here, most notably Yarmolenko, but Wilshire could be the player who propels West Ham not only into the top half of the table but also provides European aspirations. If Wilshire can stay healthy, he brings the needed link from defense to attack for West Ham, and playing alongside Lanzini, he will not have to bear the playmaking burden alone.
The 26-year-old Wilshire played 38 matches in all competitions for Arsenal last season, his most since logging 49 in 2010-11. If he can play at least 30 league matches, a top-half finish should be in the cards for West Ham
Per Ladbrokes, West Ham is tied for ninth for being relegated at comfortable odds. The Irons have the sixth-best odds of staying up at 1/12 and tied for fourth-best odds for a top-half finish with 11/10 odds. They are the third-most likely team outside the regular top six to crack that group with 9/1 odds and tied for 10th with Southampton at 50/1 odds to claim a Champions League berth with a top-four finish.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 12 — Liverpool (4th) A
Aug. 18 — Bournemouth (12th) H
Aug. 25 — Arsenal (6th) A
Sept. 1 — Wolverhampton (N/A) H
April 20 — Leicester City (9th) A
April 27 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) H
May 4 — Southampton (17th) A
May 12 — Watford (14th) H
With big money spent comes big expectations. Once proclaimed “This Charming Man” by the Man City faithful after winning the club’s first Premier League title and two League Cup trophies, Pellegrini would not have left China without the commitment to spend by West Ham, and he is well aware of the pressure facing him in London.
All those signings have put West Ham in a position where contending for a Europa League spot is not out of the realm of possibility. The Irons would only be spread thin with deep domestic cup runs while derby rivals Arsenal and Chelsea are in Europa League proper and Burnley could join the pair in Europe’s second-tier tournament.
Not much separated the bottom 13 teams in the Premier League last season, and none of them made the summer splashes West Ham United did. In the preseason, there seemed to be chemistry on the right side with Fredericks and Yarmolenko, and Arnautovic showed the same form that led to six goals and six assists after the calendar turned to 2018.
It may take some time early on for everything to come together for Pellegrini and West Ham United, but there is plenty of reason to believe good things are coming for the Irons and their supporters as they should be upwardly mobile this season.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City