With the 2019/20 Premier League campaign lurking around the corner, Manuel Pellegrini has some food for thought when selecting his best outfit – but who makes the cut?
Last season the Hammers suffered a disappointing start, defeated in their opening four matches to Liverpool, Wolves, Arsenal and Bournemouth. Despite a £100m summer spending spree in 2018, the optimism of a top seven finish rapidly evaporated, but there were positive signs to take heading into the new season.
This summer’s additions of highly-rated striker Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt for a record transfer fee and Pablo Fornals has bolstered Pellegrini’s options at his disposal, with competition for places stronger than ever.
However, the Chilean manager struggled to discover what his best starting XI was, so finding the best formula for success will be crucial to mount a challenging to finish in a Europa League spot.
So, with the new faces arriving and the return of long-term absentees, what is West Ham’s strongest XI for the 2019/20 season?
Below is my prediction in a 4-1-4-1 formation…
GK – Lukasz Fabianski
The Poland shot-stopper moved to east London last summer for £7m and what a bargain it turned out to be. The 34-year-old recorded impressive statistics throughout the 2018/19 season, finishing the campaign with the most saves (148) in the Premier League.
Fabianski ranked ninth for clean sheets, accumulating seven in 38 league appearances. That was not a discredit to his ability as a goalkeeper, though – more so the disappointment of his defence.
RB – Ryan Fredericks
The 26-year-old right-back found it tough to adjust to the Premier League at the beginning of his career in east London and picking up an ankle injury, which kept him out of action for over two months, certainly did not help. However, the England defender returned and started to demonstrate what qualities he can bring to London Stadium.
Towards the end of the campaign, Fredericks became the first defender in 10 years to earn a perfect 10/10 (WhoScored) rating after his excellent performance against Southampton.
When confident, the full-back exemplified both offensive and defensive qualities that suited Pellegrini’s style of play. Fredericks is expected to be the first-choice right-back next season for the Hammers and could play a huge part under the Chilean manager.
CB – Issa Diop
The highly-rated France defender signed for the Hammers last summer for £22m – at the time a club-record fee.
The 22-year-old swiftly became an integral part of West Ham’s back four, regularly impressing against top-quality opposition; so much so that he generated strong interest from Manchester United this summer.
Diop averaged 2.1 tackles and 1.9 interceptions in the league last season, demonstrating his physical prowess to dominate defensive encounters. The colossal defender also averaged 4.7 clearances, possessing an astute ability to divert dangerous opportunities on a regular basis.
CB – Fabian Balbuena
The Paraguay international developed a solid partnership with Diop but suffered a knee injury in late December, which kept him on the sidelines for over two months and disrupted the Hammers’ defence.
The 27-year-old centre back was a reliable choice for Pellegrini, averaging 1.7 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per match. Despite an injury-hit campaign, Balbuena became an essential part of the operation and the Irons kept just two clean sheets during his absence.
The partnership of Balbuena and Diop provided a solid base to build on and they will be vital to Pellegrini’s plans next season.
LB – Arthur Masuaku
The 25-year-old has found it difficult to cement a regular starting position at London Stadium, but there were promising signs ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.
Masuaku averaged 2.5 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per match last season, which suggests his criticism for his inability to defend could come off as harsh.
The DR Congo international was regularly exposed when he played, though, and will need to improve the defensive side of his game to solidify the left-back position. His attacking attributes give him the edge over Aaron Cresswell for a place in the starting line-up.
DM – Declan Rice
Rice needs no justification. The 20-year-old midfielder has been a revelation for the Hammers and last season was monumental for the youngster – scoring his first goal for the Hammers in a 1-0 win against Arsenal and earning his first senior cap for England.
The West Ham academy graduate averaged an 86.4% pass success rate last season and was essential in the centre of the park. Defensively, the England international has excelled past everyone’s expectations, averaging 2.9 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game. R
ice will go to the very top and it is a privilege to have him in a Claret and Blue shirt.
RM – Andriy Yarmolenko
This position will be a headache of Pellegrini. Michail Antonio revitalised his career in east London under the Chilean manager and it will be interesting to see who starts the 2019/20 opener against Manchester City on August 10.
Yarmolenko suffered an Achilles tendon rupture in October last season and that was his last action of 2018/19. The injury was a devastating blow for the 29-year-old and he will be keen to impress this time around.
Although Antonio enjoyed an excellent season last time out, Yarmolenko demonstrated his quality in small doses at the start of his career in east London and just edges the starting spot.
CM – Jack Wilshere
The England midfielder has always possessed the quality to be an outstanding talent, but a cruel affair with injuries has stunted his potential.
If the 27-year-old can keep fit for the 2019/20 campaign, I believe he will play a vital role for the Hammers in their bid to finish seventh.
Wilshere was absent from 30 league matches last season for the Irons, consistently struggling with an ongoing ankle injury. However, he has looked sharp and fit ahead of the 2019/20 campaign and is, in my opinion, the best technical ball-player at the club.
There will always be question marks over his injury record, but when fit there is no doubt he slots into our strongest XI.
CM – Manuel Lanzini
With the recent acquisition of Spanish playmaker Fornals, there is a debate for where that leaves Lanzini. The 26-year-old only made five appearances last season due to injury, but the Hammers fans should not forget the quality he brings to the side.
The Argentina maestro is often the one to make things happen and provide a bright spark. A long-term injury meant that he was unable to display this last season, but a fully-fit Lanzini starts over an unproven Fornals in my opinion.
Those two will be battling it out for a starting spot and it is healthy competition to have.
LM – Felipe Anderson
The Brazil winger took time to settle in east London, but once he got going, he proved what a valuable asset he is to the side – a brilliant goal against Manchester United to open his account exemplified that.
The 26-year-old netted nine goals and chipped in with four assists in 36 league appearances last season, and with experience in the Premier League under his belt, this season could produce something special.
With the likes of Wilshere and Lanzini to combined with, West Ham fans have every reason to be excited, especially with the new striker in town.
ST – Sebastien Haller
The striker West Ham have craved for years. Haller signed for the Hammers from Eintracht Frankfurt for a club-record fee and could be the missing piece to launch a serious challenge for a European spot.
The 25-year-old netted 20 times and registered 12 assists for Frankfurt last season, demonstrating his capabilities to put the ball in the back of the net, but also create chances for his team.
The Hammers have an exciting line-up next season, and the addition of Haller has significantly improved the complexion of their outfit.