Preview: Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Ham
West Ham head to the Black Country tomorrow to embark on a Premier League campaign they hope will end with European qualification.
Newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers will provide a stern test of the Irons capabilities when they meet at Molineux, and a good start is vital for the Londoners.
Gianfranco Zola has an almost complete squad to choose from for the game, with his international players all returning unscathed from midweek duty.
The Hammers completed the signing of Radoslav Kovac on a three-year deal last night. The Czech international, who made nine appearances on loan last season, may not be included in the squad at Wolves as the club are still awaiting clearance from UEFA.
Also ruled out are long-term injury victims Luis Boa Morte, Dean Ashton and Valon Behrami.
Behrami is getting close to full fitness and The Wharf understands the Swiss midfielder could make a return, on the bench, in the Carling Cup clash with Millwall in 10 days time.
One player hoping he has done enough to play tomorrow is Danny Gabbidon.
Gabbidon made his long-awaited return to Upton Park against Napoli last Saturday and the Welsh defender is keen to re-establish himself in the Hammers team after 20 months out.
The centre-back celebrated his 30th birthday with a substitute appearance, his first outing on the Boleyn pitch since December 12, 2007. An abdominal injury picked up in that game against Everton sidelined him until this pre-season.
Gabbidon was pleased with his reception from the Boleyn faithful when he came on as an 80th minute substitute.
He said: "It was nice. It's been a while since I played here and the fans have been good to me from day one. They gave me a good reception and hopefully I can stay fit and make a few more appearances this season.
"I'm just happy to be back training, back playing. Obviously I want to make up for lost time and try to be available for as many games as possible, and at the moment I'm feeling really good."
Plenty has changed on and off the pitch at West Ham since he last played but Gabbidon, 2006 Hammer of the Year, is relishing the prospect of proving himself to Gianfranco Zola.
He said: "The manager hasn't really seen me play and I've got to take a little bit of time to get used to what he wants from me as a player.
"A lot of the other players have worked with him for longer so for me the last few weeks has just been him trying to get his points across and trying to learn what he wants me to do.
"He's a very good manager and still a very good player as well. When he joins in in training he's very hard to mark.
"All the players are enjoying it, because as you can see we're playing good football. That's how he wants us to play and that's always been the tradition of West Ham. I'm sure there's more to come from the team and the manager's still relatively new so I'm sure there's more to come from him as well."
Gabbidon has plenty of competition for a place, with Matthew Upson James Tomkins and James Collins all vying for two centre-back spots. But he's up for the challenge.
He said: "It's one of the strongest areas of our team so whoever plays is going to do a good job. We all get on well and we're all good players, so whoever's playing it's good luck to them and whoever's not playing will bide their time and wait for their chance, and then hopefully take it.
"At the moment it's early days and we're all still trying to get as many minutes on the pitch as possible to get our fitness. We'll see what happens with the first game but I'm sure none of us will be too disappointed if we're not playing. There's a long way to go this season and anything can happen."
Team-mate Mark Noble is another hoping to impress this season, chiefly because he wants to stake a claim for Fabio Capello's World Cup squad. He knows exactly what he need to do - score more goals.
Noble managed only three league strikes last season and he knows Gianfranco Zola wants more from him.
He said: "I want to play as many games as I did last year and score a few more goals. I came close on Saturday with a strike. Hopefully I can get myself in that position a lot more and get on the scoresheet a little more, then I'll be happy.
"Obviously I want to impress. Now I'm finished with the England under-21s I want to push on and get into that senior squad. Hopefully I can do that if I keep working hard and impressing people."
One player Noble hopes to click with is new signing Luis Jiminez. He has enjoyed playing with the Chilean international in pre-season.
He said: "He's a really good player, a clever player. He fits into our team well because we like to pass it, we like to do little interchanges.
"Hopefully if we can get him on the ball a bit more and he can score us a few goals and Carlton Cole can chip in as well we should have a good year."
Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Ham