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West Ham boss eyes European spot with attacking intent

PUBLISHED: 11:48 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:48 08 August 2019

West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini during a press conference in Shanghai.

West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini during a press conference in Shanghai.

PA Wire/PA Images

But he must find a way for defence to stop leaking goals

West Ham United's Felipe Anderson and Athletic Bilbao's Inigo Cordoba during the Pre-Season match at the London Stadium.West Ham United's Felipe Anderson and Athletic Bilbao's Inigo Cordoba during the Pre-Season match at the London Stadium.

When you consider the dreadful start, the amount of long-term injuries and their failure to convert a number of opportunities to move into seventh place, perhaps 11th place was a decent finish for West Ham United last season.

It was the first time that boss Manuel Pellegrini had failed to get one of his teams into Europe and he has splashed the cash again in order to break into the upper echelons of the Premier League.

"Of course, this is my second season and I hope we are going to improve on what we did last year," said the manager after their final match of pre-season on Saturday.

"I think that last season we grew a very big step, especially the relationship between the fans, the stadium and the team and I think that is absolutely linked with the way we play."

West Ham United's Pablo Fornals and Athletic Bilbao's Unai Lopez during the Pre-Season match at the London Stadium.West Ham United's Pablo Fornals and Athletic Bilbao's Unai Lopez during the Pre-Season match at the London Stadium.

Last term was the best result the Hammers have had since the move from Upton Park, but it is vital that they make another big improvement this time round, especially with the big money they have spent.

With the players that have come in, West Ham fans could well be in for an exciting time.

Marko Arnautovic may be gone at last, but new boys Sebastien Haller and Pablo Fornals already look to have added to the attacking options.

"I am very happy with the amount of goals we are scoring," added Pellegrini.

West Ham United's Manuel Lanzini during the pre-season friendly match at Craven Cottage, London.West Ham United's Manuel Lanzini during the pre-season friendly match at Craven Cottage, London.

"But a little bit worried about the amount of goals we are conceding."

Saturday's Betway Cup game against Athletic Bilbao at London Stadium illustrated that perfectly.

The Hammers were 2-0 down early on after defensive mistakes, but then hit straight back to level with a couple of excellent goals.

It has been a similar story all through pre-season with only the 1-0 win at Fulham bucking the trend of them scoring and conceding in equal measure.

"For me, the most important thing is the way we are getting forward and I am sure the fans will enjoy the way we play," said Pellegrini.

"But we must be more concentrated and work hard in defending because football is not just attacking. I hope in the next week we will become a more aggressive team when we don't have the ball."

Individually, West Ham defenders Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena have been heralded as top Premier League defenders, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is the current Hammer of the Year, but that is not borne out in the results.

At full-back, Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku are likely to be the first choices, but they are better known for their attacking than their defending and when you have so many other forward looking players, perhaps that is not the best policy.

The squad certainly looks to have improved on last season, especially going forward.

It looks like Pellegrini will go with Haller, Fornals, Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson in a four-pronged attack.

And then there is also the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko, Robert Snodgrass, Javier Hernandez, Michail Antonio and Grady Diangana to make a difference off the bench.

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"The squad is almost ready," insisted the manager.

"We have two players in each position and we already have more than one year working.

"We started last season with nine new players and, of course, a new manager. I hope we will improve again this season."

Jack Wilshere seems to be the stand-out man from pre-season.

The former Arsenal midfielder has shown his class as well as his fitness so far and his goal against Bilbao is hopefully a sign of things to come.

That could mean that skipper Mark Noble may find himself on the edge of things as the England international becomes the first choice to play alongside Declan Rice in midfield.

However, we have said that many times before and Noble always seems to bounce back and find himself leading the team once again.

Don't bet against that again, especially as much of it depends on the fitness of Wilshere.

It was good to see Winston Reid return to action in pre-season, especially as many had written him off as a West Ham player.

It is unclear how much we will see him this season, though, and that was why Pellegrini was keen to sign another back-up centre half before the transfer window shut.

"I'm happy to see Haller playing," said Pellegrini of his club transfer record signing.

"He's new and I think also for other new players like Pablo Fornals, and Andriy Yarmolenko they are going to create chances."

It certainly looks that way, but the worry is that for every goal they score, there is a chance that the opposition will grab one as well.

When you consider the first game of the season is against mighty Manchester City, who Pellegrini led to a Premier League title, never could that become more apparent.

"I don't want to set a target at the beginning of the season," he added.

"Last season, against big teams, we played very well. We must try to not to be inconsistent.

"We will keep working hard. I have a lot of trust in this squad and I'm sure we are absolutely happy in the way we are playing.

"I hope we will have the same support from the fans. We always have 60,000 people behind our team every time we play here at London Stadium. I hope that we can have a brilliant season and they can enjoy it."

So what is a brilliant season? An improvement on last season's position for sure, but they need more.

Breaking into the top six will be a tall order, but with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United seemingly on the wane, there is never a better chance to do just that.

Perhaps more realistically is to be the best of the rest and to do that they will need to take on the likes of Everton, Leicester City and Wolves.

A place in Europe must be the goal and there is no reason why this team cannot do just that.

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