Manuel Lanzini

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Bilic laments “disaster result” against “quality” Manchester United

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Slaven Bilic was a bit short-handed against one of the world’s most powerful attacks, but don’t tell him it’s okay that West Ham United fell 4-0 to Manchester United on Sunday at Old Trafford.

Speaking to NBC’s crew on the pitch at Old Trafford, Bilic didn’t want to hear about the absences of Michail Antonio, Cheikhou Kouyate, and Manuel Lanzini.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho, Lukaku react ]

“They were much better,” Bilic said. “We have to admit when you lose 4-nil, it’s a disaster result. It’s very find to find any positives. Apart from the start of the game, they were much stronger.”

“We knew they had that physicality, that quality, that pace. Therefore we wanted to create situations that were two against one. In the majority of the game they had enough time to turn and then it’s very hard to match them. Whether the ball is in the air or on the ground they have that quality.”

When asked about the positive signings made by West Ham this summer, Bilic quickly turned back to Sunday’s loss.

“It excites me, but we are here to start this game. We were missing some players. Some will be back for the game against Southampton and all should be back for the game against Newcastle, but I expected much better today.”

Training will be interesting this week, and Southampton should be ready for a West Ham team with a thorn in its paw. Then again, that works both ways following Saints’ dominant but disappointing draw with Swansea.

PL Sunday preview: Man Utd, Spurs begin title quests

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We’re 80 percent of the way through the opening weekend of the 2017-18 Premier League season, which means two games — featuring two of the six presumed title hopefuls — on the Sunday schedule…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — A wild return for the top flight! ]

Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham haven’t spent a penny all summer (maybe you’ve heard), despite netting $65 million in exchange for Kyle Walker, but worst of all, Danny Rose went public with his own frustrations this week, leaving one to wonder if everyone in the dressing feels the same. Suffice to say, Mauricio Pochettino welcomes the “distraction” of real games to be played.

The last time Spurs visited St. James’ Park, Newcastle embarrassed Pochettino’s men, 5-1, on the final day of the 2015-16 season. The defeat saw Spurs fall from second in the league table, down to third, behind Arsenal. The Magpies had been relegated to the Championship weeks earlier, but manager Rafa Benitez stuck around for a season in England’s second division and brought the club back to the PL at the first time of asking.

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (hamstring) | Tottenham — OUT: Danny Rose (knee), Erik Lamela (hip), Son Heung-min (arm); QUESTIONABLE: Kieran Tripper (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. West Ham United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While far from the busiest of the PL’s six title hopefuls this summer, Man United’s transfer business was conducted on a must-be-addressed basis — star striker Romelu Lukaku, to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney; Nemanja Matic, to anchor the midfield and protect a shaky set of center backs; Victor Lindelof, to displace those shaky center backs — perhaps more so than any other side. Given the number of injuries Jose Mourinho was forced to navigate last season, spending just short of $190 million on reinforcements was the Red Devils’ only way back into genuine title contention.

As for West Ham, Slaven Bilic needs to deliver serious improvement on last season’s 11th-place finish — and a much faster start to the campaign — if he’s to complete his third full season in charge of the Hammers. While Marko Arnautovic goes down as the club-record signing ($26 million) from the summer, it’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez ($18 million) on whom all eyes will be focused on Sunday, as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer returns to Old Trafford, to face the manager who many believe forced him out, for the first time since leaving the club for Bayer Leverkusen nearly two years ago.

“I can just say it’s luck,” Hernandez said when asked about his storybook return to life in the PL. “It was a great experience [there] … only happiness. I was living my dream and made that big step, which is not common. There is nothing negative about going there. It’s going to be my first game with my new club, against my old club in my old house. It’s only positive things – it’s an important moment for me.”

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Luke Shaw (foot), Marcos Rojo (knee), Ashley Young (hamstring), James Wilson (knee) | West Ham — OUT: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Sofiane Feghouli (hamstring), Andy Carroll (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Manuel Lanzini (knee), Marko Arnautovic (leg)

Has Everton’s expensive rebuild given it Top Four hope?

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There’s one each August.

Take last season. Buoyed by a seventh place finish under Slaven Bilic in 2015-16, West Ham United spent to bring Andre Ayew, Manuel Lanzini, Håvard Nordtveit, Gokhan Tore, Simone Zaza and a host of others to town.

Some worked out, some didn’t, some were hurt, but the Irons didn’t move the needle in taking all season to build any semblance of form. Prone to losing streaks, West Ham lost four-straight and five-straight matches in the PL, going six and seven games without a win.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

This year, it’s again the seventh place finisher making noise, and some think Everton could finish higher than Merseyside rivals Liverpool in Ronald Koeman‘s second year on the job.

The Toffees need to handle Hajduk Split over two legs to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage, and Koeman has built up enough quality to make a deep run in the tournament and a nice climb in the Premier League standings.

When the biggest question mark of the big summer additions is England’s all-time leading scorer, well, big things are going to be expected from Goodison Park.

Everton has added Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaasen, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane, and Jordan Pickford. Those are potential impact players right up the middle of the pitch (perhaps with Sandro shipped wide because of Rooney). The Toffees still have Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye as a killer midfield duo, Ashley Williams to team with Keane, and any number of prospects and valuable commodities (plus the leg peg of Leighton Baines).

And rumor has it Gylfi Sigurdsson is going to end up at Goodison.

Sure the club sold Romelu Lukaku and will be without influential fullback Seamus Coleman for some time, but there are many reasons to believe the Toffees can reach new heights.

Here’s the rub: and it’s the schedule. How far behind will the Toffees be in their chase for the Top Four after opening the campaign home to Stoke, then away to Man City, away to Chelsea, home to Spurs, and away to Bournemouth (with the Hajduk Split matches mixed into the first three encounters)?

That’s one heck of a gauntlet, one laden with away obstacles. But navigating that mess and still being within shouting distance will be a major victory, and one that could propel Everton’s status as a contender deep into the season.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – West Ham United

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West Ham truly, truly struggled at times last season. Injuries were abound. There were questions asked of Slaven Bilic.

And yet through all that, they finished 11th. That seems to speak to the depth of the roster and the fantastic, sometimes underappreciated managerial job Bilic did to keep the Hammers afloat despite all the struggles.

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This year, the bad luck should turn around. West Ham shedded the excess fat on the squad and brought in a pair of impact players who should step right into the starting lineup. Marko Arnautovic especially is a fantastic addition, who along with Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini, Sofiane Feghouli, and Michail Antonio should provide plenty for new signing Chicharito to feast on.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best case, this is a Europa League team. With all the new attacking talent for Bilic to play with, he can rotate players to avoid or deal with injuries. At the back, Bilic will have to find his preferred formation, because the depth will give him headaches – a good problem to have.

Through all the problems last season, the team still finished strong and away from the relegation battle, proving they are not a relegation candidate this season, even if the injury troubles return. Worst-case is probably another early flirt with the bottom third, but ultimately they pull out of it for a 13th place spot.


Best possible XI is…

Hart

Fonte — Reid — Ogbonna

Antonio — Noble — Lanzini  — Kouyate — Arnautovic

Carroll — Hernandez

This is tough, and you can be sure Bilic will rotate plenty. Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell will get time in a typical 4-man defensive line, while Robert Snodgrass and Sofiane Feghouli will rotate through on the wings. Diafra Sakho provides striker depth.


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City, $27 million), Chicharito (Bayer Leverkusen, $21 million), Joe Hart (Manchester City, Loan), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, Free).

Transfers Out: Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough, $9 million), Havard Nordtveit (Hoffenheim, $8.5 million), Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough, $6.6 million), Raphael Spiegel (Boavista, Free), Stephen Hendrie (Southend United, Free Transfer).

Last season: 

— 11th place in Premier League
— FA Cup 3rd Round (lost to Manchester City)
— League Cup quarterfinals (lost to Manchester United)

Star Player: Chicharito — Last season, West Ham seriously missed a player who could finish chances with Andy Carroll either out or misfiring. Now, they have a guy who can provide that final touch. Chicharito is a top-class striker who will eat up the goals where last season the Hammers failed to find the back of the net.

Last year, West Ham was ninth in the Premier League in chances created. Add Arnautovic to that mix, plus a healthy Snodgrass and Lanzini, and this season could be a big return to England for the Little Pea.

Coach’s Corner: Slaven Bilic — If it wasn’t clear after his first season in charge at West Ham, last season should prove how valuable the 48-year-old Croatian is to the Hammers. Bilic is able to mix and match his tactics to fit who is available and on the field, such an important trait last season when players were dropping like flies. Now, with good squad depth, he’ll need to channel that ability again to get everyone’s best.

PST Predicts: With the creative talent and steadiness at the back, West Ham should seriously improve on last season. They’ll finish more chances, and with Bilic in charge, this should be a top-half team with a shot at a Europa League spot.

How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham?

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Javier Hernandez is set to become the most-expensive player in West Ham’s history with the Mexican international flying in to London for a medical and to agree personal terms.

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“Chicharito” will reportedly be paid over $180,000 per week as the Hammers agreed a deal of $21 million with Bayer Leverkusen last week for Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer.

With the former Manchester United striker ready for a return to the Premier League, where will Hernandez, 29, slot in at the London Stadium?

Below are a few options below for the Hammers as Hernandez is expected to deliver goals by the bucket load in east London. 


Option 1

—– Hart —–

— Zabaleta — Fonte — Reid — Cresswell —

—- Obiang —- Kouyate —-

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Arnautovic

—– Hernandez —–

Option 2

—– Hart —–

—- Zabaleta —- Fonte —- Reid —-

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Kouyate — Arnautovic —

—- Hernandez —- Carroll —- Ayew —-

Option 3

—– Hart —–

— Zabaleta — Fonte — Reid — Cresswell —

—– Kouyate —–

—  Antonio — Lanzini — Arnautovic

—- Hernandez —- Carroll —-

Conclusion

Hernandez is joining West Ham at an exciting time with the Hammers signing Marko Arnautovic last week, plus adding the experience of Joe Hart and Pablo Zabalete in defense. After a year in the London Stadium, the excuse of adapting to a new home is no longer feasible and Slaven Bilic knows his team must hit the ground running.

Chicharito will have no problems adapting to life back in the PL. In truth, he can play in any league in the world. A poacher is a poacher. Period. That said, Hernandez has struggled at times leading the line on his own so Option 1 would be tricky to get the best out of him. So would Option 2 with him drifting off the right flank to latch onto Andy Carroll‘s knockdowns along with Andre Ayew, but it could work.

Option 3 seems like the real winner to me. With the running and pace of Antonio and Arnautovic in-behind, plus the trickery of Manuel Lanzini, both Hernandez and Carroll would have chances galore to score and we all know how clinical Chicharito is. Having crosses whipped in and Carroll causing havoc in the penalty box with Chicharito sniffing around for scraps is simplistic but it worked well for West Ham in 2015-16 when they were pushing for the top four.

With Arnautovic, Antonio, Hernandez, Lanzini and Carroll in attack, West Ham could potentially be top-heavy this season but after the struggles of last season, Bilic will rate scoring goals over conceding them. Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang or Mark Noble will have plenty of work to get through in the holding midfield role but Antonio and Arnautovic can track back when needed.

Simply put, you buy Hernandez to get finish off crosses and direct balls into the box, especially when you have Carroll around. West Ham needs to set up their team to maximize Hernandez’s abilities and it’s shocking that more PL teams didn’t make a big push for him.