West Ham are preparing to play Slovenian minnows NK Domzale on Thursday (July 28) but in their sights is a new Premier League season already touted as one of the most mouth-watering prospects for years.
At a press conference before the match, manager Slaven Bilic and captain Mark Noble gave some clues about how things are going behind the scenes.
1. The team will still have a makeshift feel
Sofiane Feghouli, Havard Nordveit and Gokhan Tore have played pre-season and manager Slaven Bilic declares himself impressed. He said: “They have made a really good impression and some of them will start, definitely. They have started to gel with the team. We are ready and we are going to come out with the best possible team.”
There are still players due to return after Euro 2016 and both Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell are out with injuries . “We have been training with 70-80% of the squad we are expecting to have in the Premiership,” said Bilic.
2. West Ham are better prepared this time
The Europa League was something of a rush last time around with Slaven Bilic having insufficient time to get to know his squad. That translated into an irascible and unsatisfying run with red cards, injuries and defeat. Things are better this time around.
Bilic said: “This year the opportunity was there to start at the time we wanted to start anyway, with or without the qualification games.
“We’ve had one, and only one, group and we have been together for a year. They know what I am expecting from them, me and my staff know the squad much better and we really want to qualify.”
3. The Premier League will be tough – but exciting
It’s being called the best ever Premier League season because of the collection of world-class managers and an influx of TV money funding big-name strikers. West Ham will have to be great just to stand still and Bilic, always cautious, knows this.
He said: “We have a good pattern from last year, we play good football – but we are expecting a very, very tough season. We are moving stadiums, moving training grounds but we are full of confidence and looking forward to it. We are optimist but we know what we have to do which is to live for this 24 hours a day.
Noble said: “It looks good and we are excited. We’ve got seven or eight of the best managers in the world in our league and the money getting spent is quite incredible.”
4. The squad is settled and in good spirits
Noble said: “We’ve got a lot of belief at the club at the moment. We’ve got three astute signings. For us the team spirit we had last year was great and that’s my main aim – to keep the team spirit high. Last season was the best season of my career, personally and collectively. Now the club’s being run properly we’re moving in the right direction.”
5. A big name striker might be off the agenda
Bilic acknowledges the hunt for a striker is proving tough and he hinted in a change of strategy – divvying up the pot to buy more players who actually want to come to east London.
He said: “With that kind of striker we couldn’t fight with the big guns so we had to be very early or give more money but we’re not going to buy for the sake of buying. I don’t want to buy players who don’t want to come to us.
“We are trying to get quality players who are hungry and keen to join us – because we don’t have a squad big enough to compete in the Premiership.”