Last season was another successful one for West Ham United. The club from the capital could not quite match the sixth-place finish of the previous campaign, ending 2021/22 in seventh, but their thrilling run to the semi-finals of the Europa League will live long in the memories of the club’s supporters.
It is not that long since those same fans were in open revolt. But while two of the co-owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, remain largely unpopular at the London Stadium, everyone at West Ham is now pulling in the same direction. Relegation battles are no longer feared at the start of each season. Instead, the Hammers will go into the upcoming campaign believing they can once again qualify for continental competition.
David Moyes’ men will compete in the Europa Conference League this term, having narrowly missed out on the Europa League – had they beaten Brighton & Hove Albion on the final weekend, West Ham would have grabbed the all-important sixth spot ahead of Manchester United. Given the Hammers scored more goals than the Red Devils and conceded fewer, they were a little unfortunate to finish below them.
The club’s decision to move from Upton Park, their long-time residence, to the London Stadium did not go down well initially. But while the fans still have reservations about their new ground, last season was the first time it genuinely felt like home. West Ham beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in front of almost 60,000 of their supporters. They will need to perform similarly well at the London Stadium if they are to break back into the top six this season.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)
Lukasz Fabianski; Vladimir Coufal, Kurt Zouma, Nayef Aguerd, Aaron Cresswell; Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek; Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals, Said Benrahma; Gianluca Scamacca.
David Moyes has rebuilt his reputation at West Ham after disappointing spells at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland threatened to permanently affect the Scot’s standing within the game.
First appointed by his current employers in November 2017, he fulfilled his initial remit of keeping a relegation-threatened team in the top flight. However, at the end of that season, the West Ham board decided Moyes was not the man to take the club forward and chose to part ways with the ex-Everton head coach.
To be fair to the powers that be at the London Stadium, they acknowledged their mistake when they reappointed Moyes in December 2019. He once again steered West Ham clear of danger, then went on to finish sixth in his first full season at the helm. Moyes has made the Hammers tough to beat, but they are also capable of playing good football – a riposte to the lazy criticism of the Scot as a defensive manager.
Throughout his 11-year tenure as Everton boss, Moyes’ side were regular contenders for the European qualification spots. The 59-year-old will hope to replicate that achievement at West Ham, who have many of the tools required to become top-eight finishers season in, season out.
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Declan Rice has once again been the subject of strong transfer speculation this summer, but he looks set to stay at the London Stadium for at least 12 more months. That is a huge boost to West Ham’s ambitions of returning to the Europa League. Rice is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, and he was among the division’s standout performers in any position last season. It says everything about his quality that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United are so keen to sign him.
During Moyes’ first spell in east London, Rice was often deployed as part of a back three. He then became a holding midfielder, but that does not feel like a completely accurate description of his role these days.
The England international has become more of a box-to-box player, someone who excels in carrying the ball forward and driving his team up the pitch. If he can start to add a few more goals to his game – he has only scored 10 in almost 200 club appearances – Rice will become the complete midfielder.
Nayef Aguerd (Rennes), Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain), Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo), Flynn Downes (Swansea City)
Mark Noble (Retired), Ryan Fredericks (Bournemouth), Andriy Yarmolenko (Released)
Our Premier League score card
In terms of pure shot-stopping ability, few Premier League teams have a more reliable presence between the posts than West Ham. Lukasz Fabianski is now 37 years old but his reflexes are as sharp as ever. His overall form dipped towards the end of last season, though, leading to rumours that Alphonse Areola could replace him as West Ham’s No.1 now that his move from Paris Saint-Germain has been made permanent.
Either way, the Hammers will have an excellent goalkeeper as the last line of their defence. Areola was tipped for great things in his younger years, and although he has not quite lived up to expectations yet, his signing represents a coup for the London outfit.
West Ham’s defensive record was only the ninth best in the top tier last time out, with Brighton, Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers among the Premier League teams who conceded fewer goals. Moyes, whose Everton sides were always difficult to break down, will be keen to see his charges improve upon that record in 2022/23.
The West Ham boss would no doubt point out that several of his centre-backs missed large parts of last season. With everyone fit, the Hammers have a strong pool of defenders who operate in the middle of the backline, and the signing of Nayef Aguerd is exciting given his displays in Ligue 1. The Morocco international is left-footed and will provide balance at the back, while also helping to improve West Ham’s build-up play. The right-back Vladimir Coufal struggled at times last season, though, and Moyes will not want to rely on the erratic Arthur Masuaku for too long if Aaron Cresswell is forced to spend time on the sidelines.
Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek form a formidable central midfield partnership at the London Stadium. The former is likely to build upon his consistently superb showings from last season, particularly with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon. Manchester United and Chelsea could face competition for his signature from other big clubs if Rice remains as dominant as he was last term.
Soucek was a significant attacking threat in his first full season as a West Ham player, scoring 10 times in 38 Premier League appearances. He only managed five goals in his second campaign but was a solid presence in the centre of the park, often holding his position as Rice drove forward with the ball. The only worry for Moyes is that there is little depth behind his two midfield starters, an issue we have considered in more detail below.
Michail Antonio made a blistering start to last season and was one of the Premier League top scorers in the early weeks, scoring four times in his first three appearances.
He was not able to maintain the same rate throughout the campaign, however, and he may have been slightly disappointed with his final tally of 10. Antonio might ultimately be eased out of the lone centre-forward role by Gianluca Scamacca, a giant at 195 centimetres who scored 16 goals in Serie A in 2021/22.
The star of West Ham’s attack is Jarrod Bowen. The wide man, who will probably go to the World Cup with England this winter, reached double figures for both goals and assists last season, scoring 12 and setting up 10. West Ham fans are also hopeful that this could be the campaign in which Said Benrahma explodes onto the Premier League stage.
West Ham’s squad depth is better than it was, Moyes securing an alternative to Michail Antonio up front and a replacement for Mark Noble in the former Swansea midfielder Flynn Downes. The signing of Gianluca Scamacca will allow Moyes to choose between two strikers who offer entirely different threats.
Alphonse Areola is a solid back-up to Fabianski and could even usurp the Poland international, who is approaching the end of his career. There is also sufficient depth at centre-half now that Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna are back from injury.
Moyes would no doubt welcome another wide forward, with Andriy Yarmolenko having departed at the end of his contract. Being able to rest the likes of Fornals, Benrahma and Bowen will be crucial if West Ham are to maintain a high level of performance throughout the campaign.
Final score: 39/50
West Ham proved last season that they are not a flash in the pan, and we expect them to maintain their position as a top-seven team this term. Moyes’ men showed in 2021/22 that they can balance domestic commitments with participation in continental competition, so the Europa Conference League should not prove too much of a distraction. Every visitor to the London Stadium in the coming months will anticipate a tough encounter.