What lies in store for West Ham this sea­son?

The Wharf - - Front Page - By Giles Broad­bent

West Ham will be play­ing a lot on the break this sea­son. Slaven Bilic has made the pol­icy clear with his sign­ings. He has built out from the back af­ter a num­ber of tor­rid goal­soaked de­feats last time around.

Key to the fortress will be goal­keeper Joe Hart who showed his worth against a sharper, hun­grier Manch­ester City side pre-sea­son. It will be in­ter­est­ing to tot up the num­ber of games, as well as shots, he saves.

Ahead of him, new sign­ing Pablo Za­baleta will make a real dif­fer­ence and the part­ner­ship be­tween the two former Man City play­ers may be­come the cen­tre of grav­ity. A back four of Aaron Cress­well, Win­ston Reid, Jose Fonte and Za­baleta has an air of au­then­tic­ity.

The top scor­ers in claret and blue in the last two sea­sons – Andy Car­roll and Michail Antonio – scored only nine. Although Bilic will be look­ing for more from en­ter­pris­ing Javier Her­nan­des and solid Marko Ar­nau­tovic, there is nei­ther the team or the struc­ture to build a 20-goal-a-sea­son su­per­star that of­fers the team a you-score-onewe’ll-score-two es­cape.

Manuel Lanzini will need to pro­vide more con­sis­tent sup­port for mid­field­ers Cheikhou Kouy­ate and sub­dued Mark Noble to make their fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties count.

Two im­pon­der­ables lie ahead. The first is their home form which was cat­a­strophic in their first sea­son at the Lon­don Sta­dium. We won’t know the real an­swer un­til the win­ter.

The sec­ond lies with Slaven Bilic him­self, who looked a de­feated man last sea­son af­ter the Dim­itri Payet saga and the sta­dium woes. He is sec­ond favourite to be first man­ager to be sacked (af­ter Rafa Ben­itez) and even the board seemed to desert him at var­i­ous low points last sea­son.

The club has been cir­cum­spect over the sum­mer – in their com­ments and their deal­ings. They have reined in the wilder fan­tasies and have been can­nier, more low key and cre­ated a sen­si­ble strat­egy rather than an ex­citable Twitter cam­paign.

Out-of-sorts Bilic needs to have a sea­son with no off-the-pitch dra­mas and no talk of sta­di­ums so he can do what he does best – driv­ing the team for­ward with his charis­matic verve.

No-one is ex­pect­ing a full-scale as­sault on the elite. How­ever, West Ham at least have to be more com­pet­i­tive, more en­er­gised and in­ven­tive and ap­pear more likely to win (even if they don’t) in more games, es­pe­cially at home where fans need some­thing to shout about to keep the sta­dium’s vast­ness at bay.

An or­derly top 10 fin­ish (evens) would show im­prove­ment and erase mem­o­ries of a truly dread­ful spell last sea­son that, if noth­ing else, will have hard­ened any soft souls for the bat­tles to come.

West Ham have to be more com­pet­i­tive, more en­er­gised and in­ven­tive

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