West Ham will be playing a lot on the break this season. Slaven Bilic has made the policy clear with his signings. He has built out from the back after a number of torrid goal-soaked defeats last time around.
Key to the fortress will be goalkeeper Joe Hart who showed his worth against a sharper, hungrier Manchester City side pre-season. It will be interesting to tot up the number of games, as well as shots, he saves.
Ahead of him, new signing Pablo Zabaleta will make a real difference and the partnership between the two former Man City players may become the centre of gravity. A back four of Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, Jose Fonte and Zabaleta has an air of authenticity.
The top scorers in claret and blue in the last two seasons – Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio – scored only nine. Although Bilic will be looking for more from enterprising Javier Hernandes and solid Marko Arnautovic, there is neither the team or the structure to build a 20-goal-a-season superstar that offers the team a you-score-one-we’ll-score-two escape.
Manuel Lanzini will need to provide more consistent support for midfielders Cheikhou Kouyate and subdued Mark Noble to make their fewer opportunities count.
The two question marks
Two imponderables lie ahead. The first is their home form which was catastrophic in their first season at the London Stadium. We won’t know the real answer until the winter.
The second lies with Slaven Bilic himself, who looked a defeated man last season after the Dimitri Payet saga and the stadium woes. He is second favourite to be first manager to be sacked (after Rafa Benitez) and even the board seemed to desert him at various low points last season.
The club has been circumspect over the summer – in their comments and their dealings. They have reined in the wilder fantasies and have been cannier, more low key and created a sensible strategy rather than an excitable Twitter campaign.
Out-of-sorts Bilic needs to have a season with no off-the-pitch dramas and no talk of stadiums so he can do what he does best – driving the team forward with his charismatic verve.
No-one is expecting a full-scale assault on the elite. However, West Ham at least have to be more competitive, more energised and inventive and appear more likely to win (even if they don’t) in more games, especially at home where fans need something to shout about to keep the stadium’s vastness at bay.
An orderly top 10 finish (evens) would show improvement and erase memories of a truly dreadful spell last season that, if nothing else, will have hardened any soft souls for the battles to come.
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