Rome was not built in a day, and after West Ham United were thrashed in their first match under Manuel Pellegrini, the Chilean will not get the East End side rebuilt in seven days to match Romulus and Remus either.
The new-look Irons hope for better things in their home opener Saturday versus a Bournemouth side eager to build on their season-opening victory.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Optimism abounded for West Ham United with the arrival of Pellegrini coupled with an overhaul of the side in the summer transfer window. All told, the Irons brought in 10 new players while spending more than £90 million to make sure they would not be part of the relegation scrap that dogged them much of last term.
But the gap between where West Ham are and where they want to be was presented in stark and brutal nature by Liverpool, who swept aside the Irons 4-0 at Anfield last Sunday. Player chemistry was always going to be an early concern with the raft of new signings, but West Ham were second-best everywhere over 90 painful minutes.
Midfielder Declan Rice was overmatched against Liverpool counterpart Naby Keita, with Pellegrini mercifully subbing off the Ireland international at halftime, and central defender Fabian Balbuena endured a torrid time in his Premier League debut.
“I was so upset with the way we defended and I was not happy with the way we attacked,” Pellegrini told the club’s official website. “Every time that you bring in so many players it is difficult to adapt to a new system but we are just starting the season.”
Operating as a lone striker, Marko Arnautovic got little service as Jack Wilshire – playing a more forward role than he did at Arsenal – made little impact. Linchpin summer signing Felipe Anderson, though, is confident the quality of the newcomers will help the side gel quickly.
“We have very good expectations for the season, this team wants to play beautiful football, and with a bit more time, all the signings are going to adapt,” the midfielder said. “The club made a big investment and now what we need to do is to work to make things go well.”
Pellegrini may look to integrate more of his summer signings into his starting XI for this match. Central defender Issa Diop – a £22 million signing from Toulouse — was a spectator at Anfield, and Andriy Yarmolenko could push for a spot on the right wing at the expense of Michail Antonio following his 23-minute runout replacing Arnautovic.
Now in their fourth consecutive Premier League season, Bournemouth opened a campaign on the right side of the ledger for the first time with a 2-0 victory over new boys Cardiff City last Saturday. The Cherries used their team quickness to confound the Bluebirds as Ryan Fraser scored in the first half before Callum Wilson – who assisted on Fraser’s strike — atoned for a missed penalty later in the opening 45 minutes by adding an insurance marker in second-half stoppage time.
For a club that had started their previous three top-flight seasons 0-0-2, getting off on the right foot coupled with a clean sheet – something Bournemouth accomplished only six times in league play last season – was a welcome change.
“A first win in the first game since we have been in the Premier League made it a bit unusual for us,” defender Charlie Daniels told the Bournemouth Echo. “It was a good 2-0 win and a clean sheet as well, which is a big bonus. The manager has faith in us and we have all improved as players as well.
“I felt ever since preseason started, how we came back, how well we trained and how well we prepared, we deserved the win and I think it showed in our performance as well.”
The Cherries have posted back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League just four times, with the last a three-match run versus Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town and Swansea City from Nov. 4-25, and have just 10 shutouts in 57 top-flight matches outside Dean Court.
Howe must decide if he will give record summer signing Jefferson Lerma his Bournemouth debut. The midfielder and Colombia international, who moved from Levante on a £25 million deal, was not in match shape after helping los Cafeteros reach the round of 16 in the World Cup.
Fellow new signing and wide back Diego Rico remains ineligible as he serves the second of his three-match ban for a red card picked up in his final match with Leganes. Lewis Cook, who impressed as the captain of England’s World Cup-winning Under-20 side, could also get a runout after being an unused substitute versus Cardiff City.
The sides have split six all-time Premier League matches (2-2-2) and played to draws in both contests last season. Fraser and Chicharito Hernandez traded second-half goals two minutes apart in last term’s corresponding fixture, and the teams have combined for 25 goals in their prior meetings.
Per Ladbrokes, West Ham are a solid favorite at 21/20 odds, while both Bournemouth and a draw carry 5/2 odds. Despite the teams averaging more than four goals in their previous six top-flight meetings, the combination of a draw and over 2.5 goals is still offering a tempting 9/1 return.
Bournemouth have scored more than three goals on the road just five times in Premier League play, but one of those occasions came in a 4-3 win at Upton Park in 2015 in which Wilson had three goals. But if one discounts their season-ending win at Burnley, the Cherries have just one win in their last 12 road matches (1-5-6).
Chicharito and Arnautovic share joint-honours as top first-goal scorers at 4/1, with Wilson trailing the pair at 6/1 as the top option for Bournemouth. Yarmolenko and Jermain Defoe are both 13/2 odds while West Ham striker Lucas is slotted between them at 11/2.
Arnautovic edges out Chicharito for any-time goal-scoring odds at 13/10 for the Austria international compared to 7/5 for the Mexico striker. Wilson is again Bournemouth’s top option at 2/1.
There is no way West Ham United are as bad as their 4-0 loss to Liverpool showed, but the challenge for Pellegrini and the Irons now is to make rapid progress with cohesion and chemistry. It made sense to hold out Diop against Liverpool, but for £22 million, Pellegrini cannot really afford to let him be a spectator for a second straight match.
The curiosity comes offensively as Wilshire — who played for Bournemouth on loan in 2016-17 — tries to adapt to his more forward role. Another train of thought would be to let him drop into a deeper midfield role in place of Rice — also playing out of position to a degree — and have Antonio in the middle and Yarmolenko on his preferred right side.
Bournemouth looked impressive in disposing of promoted Cardiff City, but West Ham present an obvious step up in talent. That is not to say the Cherries cannot hang with the Irons, but Andrew Surman and Dan Gosling are going to have to boss the midfield to keep West Ham from finding a forward flow. This should be an end-to-end match with plenty of scoring chances.
Prediction: West Ham United 2, Bournemouth 2
(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)