Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Season Preview- Sky Sports

West Ham 2007/08

Predicted Position: 11th

Star Man: Dean Ashton - It's impossible to tell what difference a fit Dean Ashton could have made last season, but the talented striker will be hungrier than ever to prove his importance after a year on the sidelines.

One To Watch: Mark Noble - The young midfielder played a significant role in the club's relegation escape last season and will be hoping to firmly establish himself in the first team this season.

Manager: Alan Curbishley - Having had the time and money to build his own squad, Curbishley will expect a substantial improvement on last season.

INS: Scott Parker (Newcastle), Julien Faubert (Bordeaux), Richard Wright (Everton), Craig Bellamy (Liverpool), Fredrik Ljungberg (Arsenal)

OUTS: Tyrone Mears (Derby), Nigel Reo-Coker (Aston Villa), Shaun Newton (Leicester), Yossi Benayoun (Liverpool), Paul Konchesky (Fulham), Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa)

Best signing: Scott Parker

Sky Bet Odds: 500-1

Likely top scorer: Craig Bellamy

Possible best XI: (Green, Neill, Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney, Faubert, Parker, Ljungberg, Boa Morte, Ashton, Bellamy)

Following the false dawn at the start of last season, there will be mixed feelings at West Ham as the Magnusson era looks set to finally begin in earnest. The signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano had looked to be the icing on the cake for Alan Pardew's FA Cup finalists, and his young, hungry squad were expected to challenge for a top-six spot as well as making a decent bid for the Uefa Cup. None of that happened. The deal for Tevez and Mascherano was shrouded in confusion and both players, lacking the fitness for the Premier League, took time to settle in to English football.

But, whatever distractions the Argentinians provided, there were other problems at the club. Dean Ashton sustained a long-term injury, new signings Lee Bowyer and Carlton Cole failed to make an impact, young stars like Nigel Reo-Coker and Anton Ferdinand could not live up to their performances of the previous season, and West Ham found themselves in a relegation scrap. When Eggert Magnusson took over in December, his immediate task was to stop the rot. He soon replaced Pardew with Alan Curbishley, and the former Charlton boss immediately began spending, bringing in the likes of Lucas Neill from Blackburn, Matthew Upson from Birmingham and Luis Boa Morte from Fulham, while Mascherano was shipped out to Liverpool.

Spearheaded by Tevez, the revolution began very late in the day and, in the last game of the season, the club escaped relegation with victory at Manchester United. Since then, of course, the Tevez controversies have continued, and the player has subsequently left the club for the champions. But Curbishley has been given the funds to rebuild the squad, bringing in high-profile stars while shipping out many of those deemed to have underperformed last year.

Scott Parker has come in from Newcastle to replace Reo-Coker at the heartbeat of the midfield following the latter's £8.5m move to Aston Villa. Curbishley knows Parker well from their together at Charlton, where the England man was involved in everything from defence to attack, and he may well return to that all-action role at Upton Park. The signing of Fredrik Ljungberg from Arsenal, too, will provide a midfield boost. There may be a feeling that the 30-year-old's best days are behind him, but a change of scenery could be all it takes to reignite the form of a midfielder who, just five years ago, was among the best in the game.

Julien Faubert was another major signing, arriving from Bordeaux in a £6.1m move. The once-capped France international reportedly turned his back on Rangers to move to Upton Park in a switch that his national coach, Raymond Domenech, described as 'unspeakably stupid'. The merits of moving to a club outside the chosen few notwithstanding, it speaks volumes of the player's quality that his national coach deems a nouveau riche Premier League side unworthy of his talents. Sadly, the winger picked up a long-term injury that will rule him out of the first half of the season. Given that, it will chiefly be Ljungberg's task to add creativity to the midfield, particularly given the departure of Yossi Benayoun to Liverpool.

But the most substantial changes so far have come up front. Ashton has returned from injury, while Teddy Sheringham went to Colchester and Marlon Harewood joined Reo-Coker at Villa. Yet the biggest news is the arrival of Craig Bellamy from Liverpool: the Wales striker will, more than anyone else, be expected to fill the void left by Tevez. Bellamy will be looking to prove himself once more after failing to capitalise on an opportunity that he termed 'a lifelong dream come true' last summer. There is little doubt surrounding Bellamy's talent, but he has only thrived in the past when all the conditions have been right: to what extent West Ham will be able to provide those conditions remains to be seen.

Goalkeeper Richard Wright has joined on a free transfer from Everton, while Roy Carroll made the move north of the border to Rangers. Wright has never been able to make good on his early potential at Ipswich, and he perhaps hit rock bottom when Everton boss David Moyes chose to recall Iain Turner from Sheffield Wednesday rather than field him against Manchester United in April. Nonetheless, he has ability, Curbishley insists he is 'dedicated, hungry and also a little bit angry', and he is expected only to deputise for Robert Green.

There have been three more departures: Tyrone Mears to Derby, Paul Konchesky to Fulham and Shaun Newton to Leicester. That may force Curbishley to enter the market for a defender, but, with Upson and Neill having arrived in January, he may consider his options sufficient, although a replacement left-back should be a priority if not. The squad may continue to change, but the foundations look to be in place. Yet, while lessons will have been learnt from last season and there will be no room for complacency, the new players could take time to gel and only time will tell if the Tevez saga will prove a distraction once more.

Competition at the top of the table is fierce, and a European spot may well be beyond West Ham this year, but a healthy top-half finish could and should be the aim.

Taken from Sky Sports

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