Sunday, July 29, 2007

Premiership Preview--12. West Ham

12. After West Ham blew a late lead at home against Tottenham and lost 4-3 on a last minute rebound goal on March 4, I completely wrote West Ham off. I thought they were dead and buried, that they were doomed to life in the Championship. Everyone knows about the controversy surrounding Carlos Tevez, but the fact remains that he almost single-handedly kept the Hammers in the Premiership. It's a near certainty that Tevez won't be at Upton Park this season, but the team that will be there won't be anywhere near relegation this time around.

Manager Alan Curbishley made a flurry of changes this summer and might not be done yet. He got rid of some dead wood (Teddy Sheringham and Roy Carroll) and swapped number one strikers (Marlon Harewood out, Craig Bellamy in). Losing Nigel Reo-Coker won't be too much of a blow as he looked disinterested and aloof at best last season, but the departures of Yossi Benayoun and the versatile Paul Konchesky are tough pills to swallow. Signing Scott Parker from Newcastle will pay big dividends if he can stay healthy as West Ham needed that bulldog-type player in the midfield, and Freddie Ljungberg should step into the role vacated by Benayoun on the wing. Striker Dean Ashton's return from injury is like a new signing and his presence on the roster will be important. West Ham might as well hold open tryouts for strikers after their top three (Bellamy, Ashton, Zamora), so they'll need productive, healthy seasons from each of those players. New midfielder Julien Faubert will probably return around Christmas from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but don't expect too much from the soon-to-be 24-year old this year.

West Ham's schedule brings 3 winnable games out of 4 in August and the same in September. The first spot of prolonged difficulty doesn't come until the end of November-mid December when road games at Chelsea (East-West London derby) and Blackburn are in the middle of home dates with Tottenham (London derby) and Everton. West Ham play Reading, Manchester United (both at home), and Arsenal in succession to bring in the new year, and close out their season with a trip to Old Trafford followed by a home game against Aston Villa. All-in-all, it's a schedule that should allow West Ham to think about a top half finish.

Bottom Line-West Ham of 2007-2008 will more closely resemble the 9th place team of '05-'06 than last season's team. They're solid in every aspect of the game (defense, midfield, attack), though their lack of explosiveness up front will hurt. This is a team that will have a legitimate hope of a top 10 place this season, though I don't think they'll reach that plateau.

No comments: