Why West Ham could break into the top six this season

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After a 13th place finish last season, West Ham have entered the transfer market this year with their eyes set on improvement. After two drab seasons with Slavin Bilic and David Moyes in charge, the hammers board opted for the appointment of Manuel Pellegrini, a coach notable for his attacking style of play, in particular during his time at Manchester City. The board, who were coming under increased pressure from the supporters towards the back end of the season, have opened their wallet this summer, spending nearly £90 million on new signings already. It’s not just the amount of money spent that leads me to believe that West Ham could be on for a successful season, it’s the type of players they have bought.

Goalkeeper
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Adrian and Joe Hart in some ways shared the position between the sticks last season, with Hart showing his underlying weaknesses and Adrian showing that while a capable shot stopper, he is far from a top class premier league goalkeeper with many shaking moments particularly when faced with rushing out of his box, or dealing with ariel balls. This has been identified by Pellegrini and the West Ham board, with the signing of Lukasz Fabianski from Swansea for around £7 million. Fabianksi is 33 years old, so while coming to the end of his career, would be able to play three to four years at a high level, which represents good business for the hammers. Not only this, Fabianski has been a consistent performer over the last few seasons at a relatively high standard, with few mistakes over his time with Swansea. Upgrading the goalkeeping position should provide West Ham with greater defensive confidence and stability amongst the back four than they experienced with both Hart and Adrian

Defence

West Ham’s defence has been a primary concern over the last few seasons, which may explain Pellegrini’s decision totally restructure the back four. Zabaleta has been replaced with 25 year old Ryan Fredericks on a free from Fulham. The former Fulham man offers a more dynamic, attacking presence at right back than the veteran Zabaleta did last season. In the championship last season, Fredericks made 1.6 dribbles per game, compared to Zabaleta’s 0.2. Fredericks also had 1 key pass per game, while Zabaleta only had 0.5. Fredericks was only dribbled past at a rate of 0.5 per game where as for Zabaleta it was 1.4. These stats show that Fredericks will be a greater attacking threat for West Ham, as well as being quicker and more dynamic which will also aid him defensively against more skilful wingers in the Premier League. West Ham have also replaced their centre backs with Issa Diop coming in from Toulouse for around £20 million and Fabian Balbuena arriving from Corinthians. Diop is a serious upgrade from Ogbonna and Reid, as he was one of the
best centre backs in Ligue 1 lasts season. Diop is an aggressive front foot defender who had 2.2 interceptions per game lasts season, the fourth most of any centre back in Ligue 1. He is blessed with not only a 6ft 4, but both pace and strength, making him ideal for the Premier League. Balbuena while not as impressive as Diop, is certainly an upgrade on West Ham’s centre back options last year. Another aggressive centre back, with good anticipation and reading of the game, Balbuena does however lack the pace that Diop has and thus may require a more defensively narrow full back like Aaron Cresswell to be paired next to him.

Midfield

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In midfield West Ham have brought in Jack Wilshere on a free which will add some creativity to a slow, rigid central midfield that West Ham have had with the likes of Obiang, Noble and Kouyate playing in the centre of the park. In comparison to Noble and Obiang, Wilshere is a far better offensive outlet. In 2016/17 with Bournemouth, Wilshere racked up 2.1 dribbles and 1.3 key passes per game, whereas Obiang managed 0.3 key passes and 1.1 dribbles last season and Noble had 0.7 key passes and dribbles last year. This shows that Wilshere should give West Ham greater creativity from deep and inject a high tempo into the attack with his ability to dribble past opponents, which West Ham have lacked since the departure of Dimitri Payet.  West Ham still may be in the market for another central midfielder to replace Obiang or Kouyate if they depart but even if the two remain, the hammers midfield is significantly offensively stronger than it was last season.

Attack

With the arrivals of Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson, West Ham have not only added the pace that their attack lacked last season but also the quality. Yarmolenko whilst not succeeding at Dortmund and being 29 in October will still add the dynamism that West Ham have needed, as well as a goal scoring threat from the right of the attack both aerially and through runs from the right into goal scoring positions. Felipe Anderson is the real gem that West Ham have picked up this summer. In 2016/17 when played as a left winger or a central attacking midfielder, Anderson completed the most dribbles in Serie A with 3.3, as well as making 2.1 key passes, the eight highest in Serie A. In 2017/18 despite playing some time as a left wing back almost, Anderson managed 1.8 key passes and completed the most dribbles in Serie A with 3.7. What this shows is that West Ham are getting
a top class dribbler and creator who should be played in a central position and made the key point of the hammer’s attack. Anderson who is without doubt Champions League quality could be the man to replace Payet’s creativity and goal scoring ability. Marko Arnautovic’s second half to last season suggests that in the Austrian, West Ham have their perfect centre forward, with pace and power to make the runs for Anderson and Wilshere to find with through balls and key passes.

Overall

With Pellegrini at the helm, West Ham will likely adopt an attacking system next season, using pace via the flanks as well as two central forwards as the Chilean deployed whilst at Man City. Fabianksi will be the new number one keeper, with Fredericks providing a dynamic attacking threat from the right and Cresswell providing a more narrow defensively sound option to protect Balbuena on the left and Diop could be a star next year for the hammers with similar attributes to a young Vincent Kompany. Wilshere offers the creativity and dribbling ability from deep that West Ham have lacked and he will most likely be partnered next to Obiang or Kouyate unless West Ham move to sign a ball winning midfield in the remaining days of the transfer market. Yarmolenko and Masuaku on the flanks will provide pace, dribbling ability and crossing ability which will be perfect for Arnuatovic and will provide West Ham with a counter attacking threat. Felipe Anderson will play
behind Arnautovic and I would predict that he will be West Ham’s star. He has already proved himself in Serie A and his rate of key passes and dribbles suggests that he has the output to back up his ability. If Pellegrini does deploy Anderson centrally and maybe adds another ball winner alongside Wilshere then West Ham could be a dark horse to break into the top six this season.