Optimism displaces the usual pre-season apprehension at the London Stadium!
Without a shadow of doubt, this has been an excellent summer transfer window for West Ham Utd. The board finally woke up to the fact the club’s ambitions needed to begin matching the rhetoric that sold the move to the LS. Things were obviously too close for comfort in 2017-18 (in terms of flirting with relegation) and the board belatedly realised that a radical change was necessary. Consequently, they recruited a genuine top class manager and backed him with sufficient resources to restructure the squad. And what a good and professional job the club made of their transfer business. We have recruited some top notch players, who will give us vastly improved quality and greater strength-in-depth. The end result is that the 2018-19 season is now eagerly awaited with optimism by West Ham supporters and that makes a very nice change from apprehension that reigned at the start of the previous two seasons at the London Stadium.
Of all the incoming deals, Anderson, Wilshere and Diop stand out for me But, truth be told, we do not appear to have made a bad signing and I would urge fans to give Carlos Sanchez a ‘fair shake’ before we start pre-maturely writing him off. I know that some fans have reservations about the player, but he is a Hammer now and we need to give him every opportunity to show us what he can do (more on Sanchez later in the blog). I genuinely could not believe that Arsenal were prepared to let Perez go for £4-5m, but they did and I am very grateful for that particular act of generosity. I have seen us on the wrong end of so many deals with Arsenal down the decades (i.e. John Radford, Stewart Robson, Davor Suker, Freddie Ljungberg) that it feels quite novel to have potentially got the better of them with the signing of Wilshere and Perez! Both players are class technicians and have a lot to prove to their former employers. If Wilshere stays fit (which he largely has done for the last two seasons) then he can be a really shine in our central midfield and add a whole new dimension to the side. With regard to Perez, one gets the impression that (for whatever reason) he fell out of favour with Wenger and was not given a fair opportunity at the Emirates. His success depends on him quickly shaking off his Arsenal disappointments and getting back to the form that originally made them sign him in 2016.
Arguably, Anderson is less technician than magician and is the type of player that can really make things happen in the final third. Apparently, the Brazilian is also more than prepared to roll up his sleeves and battle back and cover as well, which is real added bonus. He can beat players with ease, set up goals with sublime forward passes and is effective at set pieces. Anderson will presumably play on the right, with Yarmolenko on the left (although both players have the ability to swop flanks or, indeed, play through the middle if required). They could form a devastating wing partnership, with Anderson’s vision, skill and guile and Yarmolenko’s speed, height and goal scoring ability. I do not envy PL defences coping with that combination running at them!
Issa Diop is an outstanding young centre-back, with the potential to blossom in to an international class defender. Basically, he has the lot in his armoury – including the all-important ability to play the ball out from the back. However, it is possible that Diop might need to transition to the greater pace and physicality of the EPL – if so, we must show patience and hope that he does it quickly with the likes of Ogbonna there to guide him. Indeed, it will be very interesting to see our starting central defensive partnership for the opener with Liverpool. I would anticipate that it will be Diop-Ogbonna, but Fabian Balbuena could equally come in to the equation. I was not familiar with Balbuena prior to him signing for us, but he has had a good pre-season and he looks both a worthy successor and a very significant upgrade on James Collins.
Pellegrini recognised our defensive frailties last season and set about addressing them right from the off. In addition to Diop and Balbuena, we also made two very good signings in Fabianski and Fredericks. Fabianski will provide Adrian with tough competition for the keepers gloves. We now have two very good keepers and, hopefully, healthy competition will push them both to achieve ever higher standards of competency. Because that is what we need – competency, consistency and an absence of silly goal keeping mistakes. We picked Ryan Fredericks up on a free transfer and it was an obvious a blow to newly promoted Fulham to lose him. He is a fast and skilful right-back/wing back with the ability to both defend and get forward very effectively to support the attack. I anticipate Fredericks starting at Liverpool, with Zabaletta on the bench.
Finally, we have Sanchez and the Portuguese youngster, Silva. ‘The Rock’ is a very experienced international class defensive midfielder, with over 80 caps for Columbia. The signing was not universally welcomed by all Hammers fans, but at 32, it is likely that Pellegrini has been brought him in as experienced cover for Rice and Obiang at DM. That is a back up role that some alternative targets might not have been prepared to play. In welcoming Sanchez to the club, the Director of Football, also rather tellingly mentioned Sanchez’s reputation for being a positive influence in the dressing room/training ground. So, that could also be a significant factor. Regardless, Pellegrini’s new West Ham should be a meritocracy and if Sanchez takes his opportunities and shines, he should play. On the other side of the coin Silva has been signed as ‘one for the future.’ It is unlikely that the talented young forward will be named in the senior squad of 25 just yet, because the initial priority is clearly to develop him via the U-23 squad.
It is easy to just focus on our exciting new signings, but lets not forget the excellent players that they have joined at the club. Together they should form a squad with both quality and strength-in-depth. A lot will depend on the time that it takes Pellegrini to integrate new and existing players in to his preferred system/style of play; as well as getting some rare good fortune with injuries and suspensions. Regardless, our transfer business means that we should be confident that the focus this campaign will be on looking up (to challenge the top 6-8) rather than down (to avoid the bottom three). Lets see? If that is the case, then we fans can enjoy the ride and just see what unfolds over the coming months? Who knows, it might be a whole lot better than the pundits are predicting.