West Ham have a lot of work to do across pre-season if they are to rectify the wrongs that were so evident during their first season at London Stadium.
Slaven Bilic’s side were woefully inconsistent last time out, only managing three wins on the spin on one occasion, and trouble away from the pitch only added to their problems upon settling in Stratford.
Having signed thirteen new players last summer there was plenty of hope, however, Bilic soon found himself with a squad ill suited to the challenges of the Premier League, emphasised by the premature departure of their big name summer addition – Simone Zaza – after eleven games and no goals.
Things seemed to click behind the scenes in the January window, with Premier League experience the target in any additions and, while Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass have been far from miracle makers, there was a slow progression there.
This summer is the complete antithesis of the last, with the powers that be in east London going about things behind closed doors and in a much more meticulous manner.
That, at least, is a start for a club in need of a big statement over the next nine months-or-so having committed to the London Stadium move and embarked on a new era, delayed by a poor first term. However, there is still plenty more to be done and some big decisions to be made, starting in midfield.
Irons captain Mark Noble has been an exemplary servant to his beloved club and, although at times he looked back to his best last term, it is becoming clear that time is running out on his playing career at West Ham. While there may still be areas in which he can be of great help to Bilic and his staff over the coming seasons, change is needed.
The Hammers struggled to create from midfield last season, often relying on their Player of the Year Michail Antonio to be the sole creative source, meaning they were fairly easy to nullify from an opponent’s point of view. With confusion between who would sit and dictate play, to allow others to move freely and create from central areas, between both Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate, it wasn’t often things came together nicely for Bilic.
While there are no long term options that spring to mind to fill such a role and allow Kouyate the freedom to link up with the likes of Antonio and Manuel Lanzini ahead of him, there is one old hand who could take the West Ham midfield up a notch.
Everton fans have been rejoicing over the return of former boy-wonder Wayne Rooney from Manchester United over the last week, and there is no reason the Hammers should not take a leaf from Ronald Koeman’s book and look to bring one of their own back after thirteen years away.
United midfielder Michael Carrick left Upton Park for Tottenham in 2004 and, since joining the Red Devils from north London, has developed into one of the best dictating midfielders out there.
Although five years Noble’s senior, there is absolutely no sign of the Champions League winner’s game slowing down at the same rate as the Hammers skipper, and his stats show as much.
The United man may not be picking up as many minutes as some of his West Ham counterparts, but with the likes of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera at Jose Mouirnho’s disposal, it’s hard to blame Carrick for that.
In both Edimilson Fernandes and Pedro Obiang Bilic has two midfielders who have the potential to be key for West Ham over the coming years, but still neither look solid in that holding role, meaning a season or two of Carrick holding things together could allow the club the time to find the next Idrissa Gueye or, dare we say it, N’Golo Kante to facilitate the attractive, flowing football that was so long associated with east London.
It would be a tough ask to prise Carrick from the clutches of Mourinho, given the Portuguese is such a big fan of the West Ham academy graduate, however should David’s Gold and Sullivan manage to do so it could be a masterstroke after months of scrutiny from the claret and blue support.
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