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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: West Ham United

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West Ham are on a slow build, and things seem to be progressing as planned.

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With Slaven Bilic at the helm, the Hammers secured European play last season, and despite a relative lack of flashiness behind superstar Dimitri Payet, a deep squad should help push them towards a repeat of that this campaign. It won’t be easy, with struggling historical powers like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United improving behind them, but the Hammers have a solid squad with which to compete.

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Unfortunately, with the Europa League having already begun, the Hammers have been big players in the transfer market, but have had little success. Injuries to key players like Aaron Cresswell and Manuel Lanzini have caused them problems early on, with the former out for months and nobody in to replace him. Sam Byram has deputized in the early going, but the Hammers have had multiple bids for multiple left-backs rejected or otherwise failed. Just Friday, a deal for Davide Santon looked complete until he failed his medical. They need a right-back as well, with Carl Jenkinson back at Arsenal and a winger in Michail Antonio currently filling in.

Lanzini has been easier to replace, with Enner Valencia stepping into the squad opposite Sofian Feghouli, who’s had a fantastic preseason and Europa League showing. Still, outside of Feghouli’s free transfer and the purchase of Lanzini on a permanent basis after last year’s loan, there has been less activity than expected at the Olympic Stadium, given the amount of rumors West Ham has been mentioned alongside.

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West Ham could slip if…they fail to find a steady replacement for both wing-back positions, fixture congestion in the Europa League strikes, and Payet regresses. Last season, Southampton found themselves out of the Europa League in the playoff stage, with the Premier League season barely having begun. If West Ham should do the same, it might help them more than it hurts them, as with the Saints last year. Making the Europa League group stage could prove a bigger distraction than it’s worth.

More than likely, they’ll repeat last year’s performance…Dimitri Payet is a wonderful player, and they may only have him one more season. Around him, the Hammers have a very deep, if not flashy, squad, and should be able to handle the Europa League’s additional fixtures. They can produce a result on any given day in league play, and that should carry them far.


Best Possible XI

—– Adrian —–

— Antonio — Nordtveit — Reid — Cresswell —

—– Kouyate —– Noble —–

 —-Feghouli —- Lanzini —- Payet —-

—— Carroll ——


Transfers In: Manuel Lanzini ($13m, Al-Jazira), Sofiane Feghouli (Free, Valencia), Gokhan Tore (Loan, Besiktas), Ashley Fletcher (Free, Manchester United),  Havard Nordtveit (Free, Borussia Monchengladbach).

Transfers Out:  James Tomkins ($12.5m, Crystal Palace), Joey O'Brien (Free, Unattached), Elliott Lee (Free, Barnsley),

Last Season: West Ham rode Bilic and Payet to a seventh place finish. They could have made the Champions League had things gone their way in the FA Cup final, but without the stroke of luck they needed, the Hammers still reached the Europa League for the second straight time. They were steady as a rock all year long, not once losing two matches in a row until the final two games of the campaign, which themselves halted an 11-match unbeaten run.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 02:  Dimitri Payet of West Ham United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at the Boleyn Ground on April 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Star Player: Dimitri Payet – The Frenchman used an explosive season to vault himself towards the Euro 2016 finals, and didn’t disappoint in his home country. Back from his post-Euro rest, Payet is ready to repeat the glitz and glamour he displayed in his first campaign in Claret and Blue. Where Payet goes, West Ham goes too; should he suffer a Premier League sophomore slump, there is no chance West Ham can achieve a finish similar to last season.

Coach’s Corner: Slaven Bilic burst onto the scene last season with the Hammers, and solidified himself as a neutral fan’s favorite character with gleaming reviews of his on-camera time during Euro 2016. Bilic pushed all the right buttons off the field last year, but more importantly, he moved the chess pieces to perfection on the pitch. Last year, Bilic boasted wins over Arsenal, Liverpool twice, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United. He deployed a 4-2-3-1 attacking system that still maintains defensive solidity, a type of double-edged sword even the best managers would salivate over. Look for more of the same.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10:  Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United points during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on May 10, 2016 in London, England. West Ham United are playing their last ever home match at the Boleyn Ground after their 112 year stay at the stadium. The Hammers will move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: Speaking of more of the same, West Ham should pull another top tier finish, likely in the seventh position again. Unfortunately, while the Hammers have a solid squad and top manager, teams around them got significantly better this summer while the Hammers treaded water. Due to this, it’s possible that they fall out of a Europa League position next season, but don’t expect too hard a fall. 7-10 should be the expectation, while anything more would be a bonus.

Manuel Pellegrini hired by Real Betis

Manuel Pellegrini hired
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Manuel Pellegrini is back in a Spanish manager’s chair.

The ex-Man City and West Ham man has been hired by Real Betis, returning to La Liga for the first time since 2013 when he left Malaga.

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Pellegrini, 66, has won silverware in five countries including England with a Premier League title with Man City in 2013-14 as well as two League Cups.

The Chilean has also won the Copa Chile with Universidad Catolica, Ecuador’s Serie A with LDU Quito, two trophies with Argentina’s San Lorenzo and another with River Plate, plus the Intertoto Cup with La Liga’s Villarreal.

Pellegrini has also led Real Madrid, where he won 75 percent of his matches, and Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune.

His last stint, with West Ham, did not prove fruitful but the side has not been much better under David Moyes.

The veteran manager will again be tasked with an underachieving side in Betis. Sitting 13th this season after a 10th place season in 2018-19, Betis expects a top-half side after gaining promotion back to the top flight for the 2015-16 season.

Betis has two matches left this season, home to Alaves and away to Real Valladolid. Those lower-half sides give Pellegrini a chance to start his stint in style.

We’ll be pulling for Pellegrini, a class act who had very little luck with a clearly murky West Ham atmosphere.

Arsenal – Liverpool preview: How to watch, team news, start time, stream

Arsenal - Liverpool preview
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Arsenal – Liverpool preview: Arsenal’s European desperation is high as it prepares to welcome history-chasing Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15pm ET for FREE on Peacock).

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The Gunners now know that eighth place will not be good enough for the Europa League, making it imperative that Arsenal wins its last three Premier League outings or wins the FA Cup to avoid missing out on European football for the first time since 1996.

Liverpool would love to take its next steps toward the best single-season in Premier League history by denying their rivals a shot at Europe.

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Team news

Jordan Henderson and Joel Gomez remain out for Liverpool, and James Milner seems likely to miss out as well.

Arsenal will not have suspended Eddie Nketiah or injured Calum Chambers, Bernd Leno, and Gabriel Martinelli.


What they’re saying

Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez on post-derby reaction: “Every season we try to finish above them,” said Martinez. “We need to make sure we finish above them. Our target is Europe, that is the reality. We are going to try and give our best against Liverpool and reach the FA Cup Final. We didn’t start like the manager wanted, we were giving the ball away for no reason. As time was going on we started playing well, we controlled the midfield and we outplayed them. I feel sorry for the supporters because we know what it means for them.”

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool’s draw with Burnley“If you find a way in the game which causes the opponents massive problems, come on, stick to it, do it, and we did it to a specific extent. But then we were not clear enough anymore, so that’s how it is. How I said, we left the door open for them and they used the situation, which is a special skill of that team.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Arsenal’s a home dog against Liverpool to the tune of +285, according to DraftKings, the Premier League champions a minus-114 favorite.

Liverpool’s depth outlasted Arsenal in a League Cup classic earlier this season, and Mohamed Salah led a 3-1 defeat of Arsenal in Premier League play back in August.


Prediction

Goals? Neither side has been as sharp as it would like but the firepower in both squads is immense. Our lead writer Joe Prince-Wright predicts 2-2 and we’ll ride with that because it would make for a delightful Wednesday.


How to watch Arsenal – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
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Manchester United – Southampton stream: How to watch, team news, odds

Manchester United - Southampton preview
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The door to third place is wide open for Manchester United when Southampton visits Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Chelsea’s weekend loss and Leicester City’s place on United’s docket means Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s in-form men control their own destiny when it comes to finishing as high as third on the table.

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Southampton, for its part, can harbor outside hopes of a Europa League place, currently six points back of eighth place before Arsenal and Spurs play Sunday.


Team news

Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe remain the only absences for Manchester United.

Moussa Djenepo, Sofiane Boufal and Yan Valery are out for Saints and may not return this season, while Jannik Vestergaard is hoping to come off the bench to score a second goal against the Red Devils.

 


What they’re saying

Paul Pogba about what’s changed at Old Trafford: “We play more as a team than we did before, we enjoy it even more, we defend together, we attack together, and this team is stronger as well. The players who are on the bench or who don’t play every time, when they come on they help the team so the mentality is good and is right. All this together has put us where we are today.”

Ralph Hasenhuttl on improving Saints: “We want to be braver, but that can sometimes cause you problems, like against Arsenal when we make some mistakes. We need this decision making, because then we learn. If you don’t demand this, you cannot improve in this way. …In every regard you must get better. In this moment it looks like we can make this step, and the players are open-minded to go this way. This is important, otherwise you will always stay on the same level.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Saints are tied with Burnley as the biggest underdog of the weekend at +1050, but you see how that turned out for Nick Pope and the Clarets. United is a minus-375 favorite.

Jannik Vestergaard and Daniel James traded goals at St. Mary’s on Aug. 31 when 10-man Saints drew United.


Prediction

Can anyone slow United? Saints have already claimed a big win against a Mancunian power… and this would be a big moment for Hasenhuttl’s project. The teams are on the same amount of rest and all things equal you’d like the hosts to boot. United 2-1.


How to watch Manchester United – Southampton stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Monday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Transfer news: Chilwell to Man United; Kante to Inter Milan

Ben Chilwell to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news Ben Chilwell has been linked with a move to Manchester United, while N’Golo Kante could be heading to Inter Milan.

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Starting in Manchester, it appears that Ben Chilwell is wanted by both Manchester City and now Manchester United, with Chelsea still in the hunt too.

The Leicester City and England left back, 23, is reportedly a target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as The Sun says that he is valued at $75 million and that Man United are now in pole position to sign him.

Do Man United really need a new left back? Luke Shaw is finally fit and has been very good this season, while Brandon Williams is an emerging talent at left back. Chilwell is a very, very good left back but Man City and Chelsea have a greater need to upgrade in that area. If Leicester do not make the Champions League, they will probably cash in on Chilwell.

Man United need a new center back and holding midfielder before they sign a left back but Solskjaer must think differently.

Kante to Inter Milan
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Moving down to west London, it appears that N’Golo Kante could be linking up with Antonio Conte once again at Inter Milan.

Kante, 29, has been riddled with injuries this season but when he has played it’s clear to see the stability he brings to the entire Chelsea side.

According to Gazzetto dello Sport in Italy, Chelsea are willing to listen to offers for the French World Cup winner as Frank Lampard continues his expensive overhaul of the Blues.

Kante has a contract with Chelsea until the summer of 2023 but now is probably to cash in on him, if they want to. If they can move on Kante, then bringing in Kai Havertz and several defensive players would be more possible this summer.

This is a tough one. On paper, Kante is one of the few players at Chelsea who should be guaranteed starters. However, there’s no doubting his level has dropped a little this season due to injuries and the style of play under Lampard.

Inter Milan are building something under Conte and Kante would be a huge part of their project.