The English transfer window is shut and the 2018/19 Premier League season is about to begin. As the memories of this summer’s World Cup begin to fade, the relentless domestic campaign is soon to be in full-swing.
For the first time since the move to the London Stadium, West Ham fans can look forward to the new term with justified optimism.
This summer has seen the Davids move quickly and decisively to secure Manuel Pellegrini and then back him in the transfer market with a host of exciting new arrivals.
But what can the Hammers reasonably expect this season? Read on to find out our 2018/19 predictions, including key player and much more…
The new signings have generated considerable excitement. That list of new arrivals in full; record capture Felipe Anderson, Issa Diop, Andriy Yarmolenko, Lukasz Fabianski, Fabian Balbuena, freebies Jack Wilshere and Ryan Fredericks and Deadline Day arrivals Lucas Perez and Carlos Sanchez.
Pellegrini is expected to make the Hammers are more attacking outfit and the arrivals of Wilshere, Anderson and Yarmolenko give him the tools to do exactly that.
However, the former Manchester City manager is shrewd enough to know that a more adventurous style requires defensive reinforcements in order to be a success, which is why Fabianski, Balbuena, Diop and Fredericks are also exciting recruits.
Everton’s struggles last season show the perils of bringing in a host of new arrivals if they don’t gel, but West Ham’s recruitment looks to have more of a clear identity. Their business has arguably only been bettered by Liverpool.
The early appointment of Pellegrini sparked the summer optimism and along with new Director of Football Mario Husillos, whom he worked with in the same role at Malaga, they have made quite the splash in the transfer market.
He has been brought in to overhaul the playing style and the Premier League title on his CV is enough to convince fans and players alike that he can do exactly that in such a competitive league.
West Ham can become a circus, where composure is hard to come by, but Pellegrini will not get easily flustered. That calming influence and winning mentality is exactly what the club needs, and combined with his penchant for attacking football, it is hard to identify a more perfect fit at this moment in time.
The biggest question mark at this moment in time is which formation Pellegrini uses. His preference for passing play and purchases of creative players suggest a 4-3-3 system to dominate midfield, but at Manchester City, 4-2-2-2 was preferred.
Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez have the makings of a lethal strike partnership, but Pellegrini will be wary of putting too much strain on his midfield – a duo could well be overrun at times.
Deciding on his preferred formation – he could of course shake it up depending on the opposition – is Pellegrini’s biggest current dilemma. Getting it right could shape the season.
Of course, the focus will be on the new-boys and one in particular sticks out as particularly vital to what Pellegrini is trying to do.
Record-signing Felipe Anderson is Pellegrini’s big creative gamble, given his transfer fee and injury problems during his time at Lazio. He does have the talent to spark this team into another gear, and him finding his best position, form and fitness is vitally important.
Marko Arnautovic was a talismanic figure under David Moyes last season and while the new arrivals should mean that he doesn’t have to do it all on his own again this time around, his pace, power and goals will be vital once more.
For all the money spent, Declan Rice, valued at just £9m by Transfermarkt, could well have a major role to play. The Irishman shone last season as a centre-half, but the arrivals of Diop and Balbuena, combined with the departure of Chiekhou Kouyate, suggest he is set to move into defensive midfield.
That is a hugely important role in this new era, as Rice would be charged with bringing technical quality to set the tone while also keeping the back door shut as Pellegrini’s men press high. Fortunately, he has the quality to handle it – he’s a huge talent.
The top six is established – unless Jose Mourinho endures a 2015/16 repeat – but seventh is a realistic goal, which may be enough to secure Europa League qualification. It would be a surprise to see Burnley there again, but Everton, Leicester and even promoted sides Wolves and Fulham will have their sights on being ‘best of the rest’.
It could well come down to a straight fight between West Ham and Marco Silva’s Toffees for seventh – and at this stage, Pellegrini’s men look like they have the edge in that particular battle.
Chasing seventh isn’t a particularly thrilling pursuit and cup glory would make Pellegrini an instant hero. An improvement on the limp FA Cup fourth round exit to Wigan last season is a very reasonable expectation, and West Ham are a solid outside bet to go deep into the competition.
The EFL represents the best chance of glory and last season’s run to the quarter-finals should provide hope. A gentler draw than Tottenham away then Arsenal away would help the fans dream of a Wembley final appearance.
Although Richard Key disagrees, a relegation battle should be off the cards this season, which would give Pellegrini no reason not to focus on bringing overdue silverware to east London in his maiden season.