West Ham boss Sam Allardyce has a heavy load of expectation weighing down on him ahead of the new Premier League campaign following and he now has the unenviable task of changing the clubs football philosophy.
The east London outfit finished 13th last season but were in the midst of a relegation scrap for a good portion of it and only managed to score 40 goals in 38 league matches – the worst record outside of the bottom three.
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Now, approaching their penultimate campaign at Upton Park before they move to the vastly impressive Olympic Stadium in 2016, the club are looking to build and reassert their former status as a club of desirable repute by climbing into the top half of the table.
The Irons again demonstrated their naivety last season by placing all their eggs in one basket (the basket being the injury prone Andy Carroll), and not recruiting any form of attacking quality as backup to the big man.
They suffered immeasurably as he did not return to the squad until the turn of the year, and it was no surprise that it was West Ham’s impressive form in both January and February – when Big Sam claimed successive manager of the month awards – that helped steer them clear of trouble.
It would appear that the club have finally learned their lesson after signing two genuinely good strikers this summer, although another Carroll injury has again left them short on options.
Ecuador’s World Cup star Enner Valencia is expected to hit the ground running in the Premier League by continuing his emphatic goalscoring record once he returns to full fitness.
While Argentine recruit Mauro Zarate will also give the Hammers something different in attack with his pace and creative edge, although the two forwards alone cannot change a philosophy.
It is Allardyce’s ability to grind out results and bore the opposition into submission that kept the clubs top flight status intact last year and it will be a huge task for the side to completely change their outlook in such a short period of time.
However the new signings and perhaps a new 3-5-2 formation – which was tested out in preseason – could send them in the right direction.
Fans expecting to see a completely different style this season will find themselves left disappointed, but as long as subtle improvements are made and the club display more ambition it will be a positive step for the future.
Former Anderlecht man Cheikhou Kouyate could prove to be the Hammers best piece of business this summer with Big Sam prising him away from the clutches of a number of clubs across Europe.
The powerful 6-foot-4 Senegalese is set to feature in a central midfield role at Upton Park despite playing in defence for his former club during their title winning season.
Allardyce clearly wants to model his midfield around the player’s intimidating physical attributes, which in theory will allow his teammates to roam into space and operate as a more potent attacking force.
He is set to feature in their opening match against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, a match which the Hammers won three times last season, and it is vital that they make it four on the trot and get off to a winning start.
How do you think the Hammers will fare this season?