Written by @samizgould
It’s not been a good year of a number of Hammers, and it can be argued that only six players are certain starters for next season. So which positions need improvement and who’s not making the cut?
The most obvious area for improvement and where the most of our money will be spent is up front. With so much to cover you could write novels about it. As it stands, with our current bunch of so-called professionals, none of them seem to have any great interest or respect for the claret and blue jersey. Multiple replacements will be needed with players that actually want to be here. We will need to sell and line up replacements and this will take plenty of time as finding top strikers is expensive and difficult.
The soft belly and other main weakness of our team and perhaps a central cause of our inconsistency is a missing midfield partner for Rice, to allow Lanzini or Nasri to play freely. Captain Noble has tried valiantly to be that man and has at times been fantastic – but it seems he can’t maintain that form week in week out, and needs help. Robert Snodgrass has been one of the highlights this season and is perhaps the best example to any player about working endlessly for an opportunity. We as fans have reversed some strongly negative views about him for which he deserves full credit. Unfortunately, Snodgrass hasn’t been influential enough to be an automatic starter next year. We need an agile player with high work rate and strength who can sit alongside Declan when needed and then drive us forward while keeping the ball, ideally with the ability to link play to the forwards from slightly deeper. These sorts of players are rare and never cheap but if big money is going to be spent then both here and the strikers is where it should go.
Left Back: One of the most frustrating things this season has been watching Arthur Masuaku find every opportunity to fall asleep on the pitch. There is no doubting that he is not a natural fullback, but you could see how people thought he might become one with his strength, pace and ability to keep hold of ball – and he can occasionally tackle well when he wants to. But fundamentally he has no interest or instinct to defend and can’t spot danger coming despite his teammates and the crowd pointing it out to him every week. Cresswell has plugged the gap and returned to the quality left back we know he can be with a cross that can cause most defences issues. Pellegrini, though, is looking for his fullbacks to get up and back much more regularly with more pace and be more involved creatively. No doubt another left back will be third on the list of priorities come the summer to provide a more solid base defensively for his attacking play. Full backs though, are going to be one of the most coveted positions behind strikers across Europe with a limited number of quality players around and most of the leading clubs across Europe looking for pace and security in their defensive line.
Right Back: Pablo Zabaleta is a warrior and professional in the extreme. He exhibits everything that our manager asks from players in commitment and mentality. His sheer presence in the squad improves us. But, sadly his body doesn’t offer all that he wants to give for our club – and he’s aware of this. He struggles to keep pace with lightning wingers and while he uses his experience, knowledge and positioning guile to help him greatly, time is coming for him quicker than we’d like. Fredericks has undoubting speed and energy but his issue is the opposite of Zab’s with his positioning and guile still needing development. More game time will help but his quality is not yet proven. With young Ben Johnson impressing the staff there could be a fascinating battle between now and the final game for them to stake a claim. If a player with both defensive skill and pace was available at a reasonable price, they could all be ousted for a starting berth.
Right Wing: You may question why not Yarmolenko as the starter for next season – there’s no doubt that Yarmolenko will be given first opportunity to start on the right next year but with his injury we simply haven’t seen enough of him to be sure, despite his clear potential. People ask for Antonio to start – but the Huddersfield game showed everything about his game that doesn’t work. He’s brilliant until he gets within shooting distance of the penalty area. Then like the Bermuda triangle everything goes haywire and his ability can’t be found. Right wing has been our most changed position all season with Diangana, Antonio, Nasri and Snodgrass all used as options on the right. We have plenty of numbers, so this will be the last position that Mario Husillos looks to strengthen, but we need someone to stand up with consistency and we may consider sales if the right offers come in to be reinvested in a technical player offering what Pellegrini needs to balance our attack.
With Adrian’s contract up, it’s looking unlikely he’ll stay, and along with Andy Carroll, there will be a at least a couple of back up players who will need replacing. Add Winston Reid to the list depending on interest and his chances of a full recovery. There may be movement with others like Ogbonna, Antonio and Sanchez all on the bubble. So it will be a very busy summer with at least seven players likely needed – which will take a lot of money, the vast majority of which will have to come from sales. We can just hope that that money and energy go to creating a quality first eleven so we can push forward. COYI.