Oh West Ham. Despite being perpetually quite shit, you’ve once again fooled me into thinking that things will be different this time. At the end of last season it was announced that the club would continue to be helmed by everyone’s least favourite troglodyte Big Sam, under the proviso that he played a more attacking and entertaining brand of football. The appointment of Teddy Sheringham as an attacking coach was a signal not only of the end of Teddy’s days of shagging budget reality TV stars but also of Allardyce’s intentions.
Old habits die hard though. A frankly dire set of pre-season results seem to reflect that the only thing that Big Sam likes more than gargantuan volumes of Wrigley’s and fried foods covered in gravy is playing negative, percentage-based football. After stealing a 2-2 draw in the last minute against Stevenage and a dour stalemate against Ipswich, the Irons headed off to New Zealand where they were battered by both Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC respectively. West Ham then headed out to Germany where they beat Schalke in a penalty shoot-out and then got turned over in convincing fashion by Malaga. While pre-season results are largely utterly meaningless, the most disconcerting thing about these performances was that, for all the talk of a revolution of style, nothing had changed. Even with an influx of new personnel, we were persisting with the 4-2-3-1 system that had proven to be toothless and ineffectual for the entirety of last season without a competent target man. The rigid adherence to this formation and shape had meant that the warm-up games meant more of the same enjoyment-destroying football that West Ham fans have become accustomed to.
There was a small glimmer of hope amongst the vast swathes of despair that has been this summer last weekend as West Ham won their final pre-season game 3-2 against Sampdoria. Sam defied all logic and expectation by fielding a very in vogue 3-5-2, the result of which was a dramatic late victory. It remains to be seen whether this altered look will be the new status quo for the Irons or simply a ‘plan B’. My suspicions are it will be 3-5-2 at home and then revert back to the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 away. Either way, springing a major tactical shift in your final pre-season game is a curious move at best.
A summer that failed to set the world alight on the pitch was contrasted with some potentially shrewd acquisitions off of it. Perhaps there is cause for optimism after all. The signings of Aaron Creswell and Carl Jenkinson will provide some much needed quality at fullback/ wingback and offer a more cavalier approach than either McCartney or Demel did last season [what a depressing pairing those two are]. Creswell especially looks a snip and will add some desperately needed quality from set pieces. Promising deep-lying midfielder Diego Poyet was signed from Charlton after breaking through into their first team at the tail end of last season and pulling strings with a confidence that belies his age. Questionable how well he will mesh into the squad after some tweets of his absolutely slating Downing and Carroll were dug up earlier in the week.
Potentially the best signing the Irons have made has been Cheikhou Kouyaté from Anderlecht. The big Senegalese central midfielder has been the one signing light in the shower of shit that has been our pre-season preparations. His early showings suggest that he will add the kind of powerhouse performances both on and off the ball that Mo Diamé was showing in his first season in East London, before he failed to get a move to a bigger club and stopped giving a shit. Kouyaté will hopefully provide some seriously needed energy and dynamism in the engine room and should complement the ‘methodical’ displays of Mark Noble; the only regista in world football to subsist exclusively on a diet of jellied eels.
The curious anatomy of Andy Carroll [85% cocaine and Jägerbombs and the rest presumably made of Play-Doh] has left him ruled out for 4 months and has led to a revamp of the strikeforce. Mauro Zárate had unsuccessful spells with Birmingham and Lazio which doesn’t fill me with confidence but he looks assured in possession. Certainly needs to play upfront with another striker as he cut a forlorn figure as a lone forward at times. Then, of course, there is the Enner Valencia question. A £12 million transfer fee for a player who has never played in Europe represents a gamble at the best of times, let alone spending it on the back of a couple of good World Cup performances. Still, he looks pacey and a threat in the air so he has the potential to add something to the frontline. He could go either way at this point but it all smells a bit like El Hadji Diouf to me. Oh well. At least we didn’t spend it on Ross McCormack. A severe lack of mobility in an attack that was fronted at times by dear old Carlton last season has obviously been identified by the club. T he signing of Diafra Sakho from Metz last night seems to be a further attempt to rectify that. He’s worth a punt for £4.5 mil tbh. Good goalscoring record, albeit in French 2nd tier. Has a go-faster-stripe in his hair though which fills me with hope. A quick YouTube scout shows that he scored most of his goals while playing on the shoulder of the last man, so he’ll add a bit more variation to the frontline.
There are still a few problems looming over the squad though. We look especially short at centre half, with Tomkins, Collins and Reid the only recognised senior central defenders on our books. This caught us out badly last season and could be an even bigger issue if Big Sam does opt to play 3-5-2. There’s still some dead wood in the squad to be trimmed, although shifting on Matty Taylor to Burnley will spare us his cumbersome displays in centre mid. And then there’s Ravel Morrison. The recidivistic talent has unquestionable potential but is ultimately more hassle than he’s worth. If I were Allardyce I’d take him for a walk over Hackney Marshes, take him off his lead and get back in the car. Perhaps we should look for a transfer fee for him though.
Much the same as last season, West Ham’s saving grace might be that there are at least 3 worse teams in this division this year [two of those are the other claret and blue pretenders.]. The David’s have been touting out the fact that they’d be disappointed if we didn’t finish in the top ten this season. It seems a little optimistic to me. I’d settle for just being more enjoyable to watch, even if it means results suffer a little. We only really turned up for the month of February last season and managed to accrue enough points to stay up. The rest of the campaign was an onslaught of soul-destroying, fun-sucking dross that left me a little disillusioned with it all. Allardyce probably isn’t the man to supply that but a slight tactical tweak and some promising transfer activity has meant that I’ve deluded myself into thinking that maybe there’s reason for optimism.
And if nothing else, at least we’ve got Carlton Cole: