Premier League preview – West Ham

Last season:

Premier League 10th

FA Cup: Third Round

League Cup: Third Round

A top-half finish upon their return to the Premier League was a decent outcome for West Ham – at no point was Sam Allardyce’s side in relegation danger and they took a few scalps along the way too. More of the same would go down well at Upton Park.

The relative success of mid-table obscurity was garnered in a very Allardyce fashion – the Hammers were strong at home, with only the top six winning more often on their own ground, built on a three-man midfield that offered a decent blend of support for both the defence and the attack. Indeed, Kevin Nolan was West Ham’s top scorer with 10.

Unfortunately for West Ham, Nolan was the only player to reach double figures, with only Andy Carroll getting more than half-a-dozen; Carroll, the headline signing of last summer, had an injury-hit campaign and managed seven goals in 24 games. As a ratio, roughly one goal in every three games, it’s not a terrible record but Allardyce would have hoped for more games – and more goals – from the centre-forward.

Carroll has the chance to do better this time around, having signed full-time from Liverpool, and with the benefit of a full pre-season under Allardyce should be better equipped – double figures is a must if West Ham are to maintain or improve on their top-half place. And more support from his teammates too – Modibo Maiga was a bust in his first season and may not be at the club when the window shuts, and precious few goals have been added in the market.

Allardyce has been active, though, adding as well as Carroll his old Liverpool teammate Stewart Downing, in a reprise of the partnership that worked so well for the Reds they were both allowed to leave at a huge loss. But Allardyce as a manager has nothing if not a formula and the distinct impression is that he knows how to get the best from wide men and towering centre-forwards in a way Kenny Dalglish did not, and Brendan Rodgers had no interest in attempting.

If goals are one area in which West Ham have to do better, the other, perhaps even more pressingly, is away form. West Ham lost 12 times on the road last season, the same amount as bottom side Queens Park Rangers and one more than Wigan, who were also relegated. With only 11 goals in 19 away trips, the two problems seemingly converged to condemn the Hammers to one of the poorer away records in the entire division.

As long as the Boleyn Ground remains reasonably imperious West Ham’s away form, if it doesn’t improve, will not lead to a relegation battle. But a few poor results at home and the bottom half will drift into view and it’s not a big drop from there towards the bottom three. Allardyce’s robust style though is reflected in his team and it would be a surprise if West Ham found themselves among the stragglers, but one that Allardyce must be wary of.

Sam Allardyce hasn’t always been popular at West Ham but he has been successful

Manager – Sam Allardyce: Sam Allardyce has long had his detractors as West Ham boss but it’s increasingly hard to argue with his results. But should the more direct approach fail to yield success it won’t be long before the Boleyn faithful make their feelings known – and the populist owners could be tempted to act.

Key signing – Stewart Downing: Andy Carroll has joined permanently but he feeds off deliveries into the penalty area – and that’s where Stewart Downing comes in. That’s the theory, anyway, but it didn’t quite work at Liverpool. Downing has much to prove then but the £5m fee will rest lighter on his shoulders than the £20m price tag at Anfield.

Key sale – Carlton Cole: Carlton Cole was released on a free and while more of a bit-part player, in a side bereft of goals his potential to get a couple could have been useful. But he scored only twice last season so departure is best for all concerned – a fresh start for him and space in the squad for West Ham.

Keep an eye out for…Winston Reid: Winston Reid isn’t so much a young diamond but a hidden one – except for Upton Park regulars. Last season’s player of the year, the 25-year-old rarely gets the praise outside East London he deserves – but another campaign marshalling the Hammers’ defence could see that change.

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