A team absolutely riddled with injuries to start the season, West Ham will just be looking to tread water until the likes of Andy Carroll, Carl Jenkinson, Guy Demel, and other squad players return to full health.
With a number of positive new signings and few important players leaving the club, Sam Allardyce and company certainly strengthened the side this offseason.
The club flirted with relegation slightly last season (although so did almost everyone in the bottom half of the table) but they should be much better equipped this year to make a run at the top half.
However, the preseason has given fans a lot to worry about. The club drew with lower-league opponents Stevenage and Ipswich Town, lost to Australian top-flight clubs Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC, picked out a shootout win over Schalke after a goalless draw, and looked listless in a 2-0 loss to La Liga side Malaga. Their only win came in the most recent match, a 3-2 win over Italian club Sampdoria with 17-year-old Reece Burke bagging a last-minute winner.
[Related: Full PL season preview]
Transfers In: Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal – loan), Cheikhou Kouyate (Anderlecht), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich Town), Mauro Zarate (CA Velez), Diego Poyet (Charlton),
Transfers Out: Matthew Taylor (Burnley), Joe Cole (Aston Villa), Jack Collison (unattached), Stephen Henderson (Charlton), Alou Diarra (unattached),
Last season: West Ham finished 13th in the last campaign, but with essentially the entire bottom half of the table engulfed in the relegation battle, the club struggled down the stretch with five losses in its last six matches.
They were helped by the fact nobody else took advantage, but even so many fans became wary of the club’s position. A winning run in March with four straight put them in 10th at the time, and those points certainly went a long way in helping weather the late-season struggles.
One somewhat shining moment was the club’s run to the League Cup semifinals, where they were stamped out 9-0 on aggregate by the eventual winners Manchester City.
Andy Carroll Kevin Nolan
With English striker Andy Carroll sidelined for up to around four months for ankle surgery, it’s hard to find someone who can replace his “star” status, let alone his goals. 32-year-old captain Kevin Nolan seems to be one of the men who could replace some of his electricity, but struggled without Carroll in the lineup last year.
With the hitman out at the beginning of last season as well, much of the attacking weight fell on Nolan, and he produced just two goals. Once Carroll returned, he bagged five, all coming in a four-match span. The same situation will again apply this year, and hopefully the seasoned veteran knows how to prepare better this time around.
Other players like Mark Noble, Ravel Morrison, and Matt Jarvis could be given shouts for the “star” player in Carroll’s absence, and even new striker Enner Valencia who impressed at the World Cup and has the attack to himself with big AC down, but Nolan is the leader on the pitch, and thus gets the nod.
Coach’s Corner: Sam Allardyce
Big Sam has withstood much in his time at Upton Park, not all of it good. He’s seen the ire of fans after the aforementioned struggle at the end of the previous campaign, but has held the backing of the club throughout.
Many still view Allardyce as a quality manager, with his on-field tactics decent but his man-management and media management skills better than many mid-table managers.
If West Ham struggle in the opening stretch of the season, the 59-year-old very well may be in hot water thanks to the struggle in recent matches, but with a relatively solid squad, that doesn’t figure to be a large possibility.
PST Predicts: Since earning promotion back to the Premier League in 2012 (after just one season down in the Championship), they’ve had understandably mid-table expectations. However, with a few key signings this offseason and talent last year that somewhat underachieved, they should have a solid year.
They will hover around the 10th position, but the club shouldn’t have any serious spat with the bottom three, and although the top of the table seems crowded, they could make a run at the relatively unknown spots around eighth or ninth.