Season preview- Can Pellegrini build upon 18/19’s progress?

Despite spending over £90m overhauling the squad over the summer, the 2018/19 season started off on the worst possible note for West Ham, with four consecutive defeats against Liverpool, Bournemouth, Arsenal and Wolves respectively. Their next three fixtures were away against Everton and at home to Chelsea and Manchester United, and it had some pundits wondering whether relegation was a real possibility for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

However the Hammers got their act together and picked up seven points from those three games. In a way, that summed up their season- very competitive against the top six sides, but often complacent against the remaining fourteen, especially on the road.

There were talks of potential European footy when the Hammers won four in a row before Christmas, but disappointing defeats to Watford at home (the Hornets had won only twice in 20 on the road coming into the fixture) and Wolves away, coupled with a knee injury to key defender Fabian Balbuena, put paid to those hopes. Then there was the talk of Marko Arnautovic wanting a move away to China in the winter window, and with the Austrian’s head turned, the Hammers lacked quality upfront.

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Eventually, it all petered out to a 10th place finish- respectable given the horror start the club had and the numerous injuries that plagued the side all season, with the likes of Wilshere, Yarmolenko, Carlos Sanchez and Lanzini barely able to figure.

The good from last season

The emergence of Declan Rice was perhaps the best part of West Ham’s 18/19 season. The youngster, it must be remembered, was subbed off at half time in the opener against Liverpool, but to his credit, learnt from the experience, and took his chances with both hands when he was reintroduced into the XI. Essentially emerged as the club’s first choice defensive midfielder and even earned himself a senior England cap.

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When he first arrived at the club, Pellegrini identified the midfield and defence as areas needing reinforcements, and splashed out heavily in the transfer market. A host of his signings turned out to be fantastic- Lukasz Fabianski was one of the most valuable goalkeepers in the Premier League last season, making countless saves to deny opposition goal scorers, and was rightly named Hammer of the Year at the club’s end of the season awards. The new youthful defensive pairing of Issa Diop and Balbuena, so impressive in 2018/19, will only get better with time and we can expect fewer goals to be conceded by the Hammers backline this year.

South American players tend to take time to acclimatise to the Premier League, but Felipe Anderson had no such issue, with the Brazilian treating fans at the London Stadium to some stunning strikes in his maiden season at the club.

The not so-good

Injuries, as mentioned above- West Ham could’ve fielded a eleven of injured players for most of the season. It left the club thin on squad depth, and prevented Pellegrini from making a real attempt at one of the Cups as Premier League survival was prioritised.

Scoring goals was also an issue- Andy Carroll was injured, Javier Hernandez didn’t quite live up to expectations, and neither did Lucas Perez. Arnautovic was good for half a season, and was the only player to finish with double-digit league goals (and he achieved it in the last game against Watford!)

Pellegrini attempted to shore up his attack, snagging the duo of Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller from Villarreal and Frankfurt respectively. Haller was an integral part of the Frankfurt side that reached the Europa League semi-finals last season and were in the hunt for Champions League qualification until the final day of the Bundesliga season.

In defence, at the time of writing, he’s only added young Goncalo Cardoso. The Portuguese youngster is highly rated, but it remains to be seen whether he can adjust to the pace of the Premier League quickly. It leaves the Hammers a little thin on quality in that department.

Major transfers/loans out: Lucas Perez, Marko Arnautovic, Sam Byram, Pedro Obiang, Reece Oxford, Edimilson Fernandes, Adrian, Samir Nasri, Andy Carroll

Predictions: A safe mid-table spot, with a longer run in one of the Cups. The likes of Everton and Wolves have also strengthened their squad, and with the top six being the top six, it’ll be tough to qualify for European footy.

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