Most pundits and West Ham supporters agree that Slaven Bilic has had an outstanding first season as our new manager.
He has made a great impression on everyone he has met and is always happy to share his thoughts and opinions in all matters pertaining to football.
For the first time in a long while he has introduced an exciting brand of creative, attacking play, characterised by fast running, quick short inter-passing and a strong sense of team pride.
However, despite the long list of positives, a number of potentially alarming issues have become apparent in the last quarter of the season, leading to some indifferent results which may have affected our chances of qualification for Champions League or Europa League football.
At the end of the season, we ended up with a total of 14 draws and 8 losses. An argument can be made that the excessive number of draws and a few of the losses could be attributed, in part, to critical injuries and a few questionable refereeing decisions.
However, I would like to identify some additional factors that cost us a conservative 14 points (six draws which should have been wins, and two losses which could have ended up in draws).
On this basis, we could have easily finished in the top four and possibly ended as runner-up behind a rampant Leicester City side.
The first concern was a prolonged insistence of playing Michail Antonio as a make-shift right back. He should have been played in his familiar right wing position, where he has performed with such distinction.
He is not only talented at creating goals, but has shown a real sense of finding the net with some tremendous finishing. The additional benefit of playing him at right wing is that he is able to act as a first line of defence for the opposition’s left-side.
His tenacity, resilience and speed make it very difficult for opposing full backs or midfielders to regain possession, thus keeping the ball in just the right position for his fellow offensive players.
Hopefully, with the signing of a specialist right back over the summer, we will see Antonio returned to his natural position.
My main concern, however, is the possibility that we may lose the services of Enner Valencia and/or Diafra Sakho. There is no dispute, that both players have had mediocre seasons, attributable in part to serious injuries.
Sakho seems to have lost heart, apparently due to the separation from his young daughter, who lives in France. On the other hand, even when fit, Valencia seems to have been given very little playing time, often used as a very late substitute when he has little or no chance of displaying his skills.
For some reason, it seems that Bilic has become infatuated with the apparent ability of Andy Carroll. It was pleasing to see Andy score a hattrick against Arsenal and enjoy a brief period of good form. However, statistics don’t lie.
Prior to his treble against Arsenal, Andy had only scored three times in his previous 26 appearances. An aerial-giant, he seems to have on-going problems taking relatively easy chances using his feet. In addition, he has lost much in speed and acceleration.
It seems like only yesterday when a fit duo of Sakho and Valencia were amongst the most menacing strikers in the Premier League. When playing in tandem, they seemed to bring out the best in each other’s offensive play.
Valencia is remarkably fast, and is blessed with one of the hardest shots on the radar. Sakho is very difficult to shake off the ball, is strong in the air, and is usually very good at finishing the chances which Valencia often provided for him.
By the end of this season, Valencia had fallen so low in the strikers pecking order, we started seeing Emenike being used ahead of a player who is surely more talented.
Surely someone within the current West Ham management, plus ex-West Ham strikers, can identify with these opinions.
Although it is early days, some interest for Valencia’s services have already occurred – Tony Pulis at West Brom being the most recent to have been linked.
Given the in-ordinate amount of time and effort that has been dedicated to the attempted rehabilitation of other West Ham strikers, I feel it only fair that Valencia be given a decent and fair go to show how his talents, which have made him a hero within his native Ecuador national team.
Sadly, there is every chance that we could start the next season with a potential dearth of proven strikers. Emenike is unlikely to stay, and should we lose the services of Valencia and Sakho, we are down to the last of our recognised strikers, Andy Carroll.
This would require the signing of a minimum of two to three quality strikers, which will cost us plenty.
I believe we should continue to strengthen the depth of the squad by keeping Valencia and Sakho on the books.