West Ham United 2016-17 Season Preview: Bilic's side looking to make the next step in new surroundings

The 2016/17 season is to be expected to be a historic one for West Ham United.

West Ham United 2016-17 Season Preview: Bilic's side looking to make the next step in new surroundings
Above: VAVEL/Cammy Anderson

The 2016/17 season is set to be one of, if not the biggest season in the recent memory of West Ham United. The Hammers have moved from their iconic home of Upton Park, after 112 years, and into Stratford where they will be the new residents of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  

This move would be big enough, but the expectation has been increased after one of their best seasons in recent memory, the pressure will be on manager Slaven Bilic as he looks to avoid the 'second-season syndrome' phenomenon.  

The Hammers have nearly all the pieces to not only replicate their success from the last season, but better it, but the question will remain if they can follow that expectation.  

Above: Michail Antonio celebrating his goal in West Ham's 1-0 win over Tottenham | Photo: West Ham United via Getty Images
Above: Michail Antonio celebrating his goal in West Ham's 1-0 win over Tottenham | Photo: West Ham United via Getty Images

One to remember

Hammers fans didn't have much optimism after Sam Allardyce's departure, and former  club favourite Bilic was brought into the club. The club's transfer activity proved positive, with Dimitri Payet being their big acquisition, however, their early exit to Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League didn't leave fans with much optimism.  

The doubters were soon proved wrong, with an opening day victory over Arsenal at the Emirates and the side carried on their excellent form, losing just twice between the opening day and Halloween. An expected slump did follow, where they failed to claim three points between Halloween and Boxing Day, however their form did improve upon the turn of the year, losing just four times between January and the 2-1 defeat to Stoke City on the final day of the season, which saw them finish seventh and leave the Boleyn Ground on an historic high.  

One of the biggest reasons for their success, was their record against the proclaimed 'big clubs'. Bilic's side were not defeated home or away by either Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, and will be hopeful for similar results next season.  

However, their biggest disappointment will be their performances in last season's competitions. Their early exit from the Europa League and the Capital One Cup to Leicester City was almost justified by their run in the FA Cup.  

They defeated the likes of Wolves, Liverpool and Blackburn on their way to take on Manchester United. A route into the semi-final was canceled out by a late Anthony Martial equaliser, and were outclassed in the return leg and will hope to get to Wembley this time around.  

Above: Sofiane Feghouli in action during West Ham United's 3-0 win over NK Domzale | Photo: Getty Images
Above: Sofiane Feghouli in action during West Ham United's 3-0 win over NK Domzale | Photo: Getty Images

Playing it out to the wings

Bilic's style of play was a refreshing sight for many West Ham's fans, especially after Allardyce's direct style, and can expect that style of play to continue into the new season.

The Hammers will continue their passing style, with the quality of Payet and Mark Noble in the middle of the park. However with Payet's form, and arrival of Sofiane Feghouli could see a bigger emphasis on playing down the wings. Their quality is well known, and if the likes of Andy Carroll can stay fit, a flood of goals could come through dangerous crosses into the area.

Above: Ashley Fletcher been unveiled as a West Ham United player | Photo: whufc.com
Above: Ashley Fletcher been unveiled as a West Ham United player | Photo: whufc.com

Buying small, looking for bigger

Fans will have expected a number of signings to help improve their side, ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium, however it has been quite the opposite.  

It is well known that the Bilic has been looking to add a top-class striker to add to his ranks, and has been linked with some of the best, with Jamie Vardy, Theo Walcott, Alexandre Lacazette and Carlos Bacca all talked about, but a move hasn't or is yet to materialise.  

The Hammers have done business, and the majority of the players that they have acquired have proven good so far. The stand outs have been Feghouli and Ashley Fletcher, the winger has proven a danger in a number of games so after his move Valencia, and his creativity could prove a dangerous asset throughout the season. Fletcher looks to be one for the future, but showed what he can do during his loan spell with Barnsley and with a few goals under his belt in pre-season, it could prove to be a breakthrough campaign for the youngster.  

Gokhan Tore and Havard Nordtveit have yet to show Bilic their true talents, but it looks certain that the Croatian will add to his squad before the window shuts on August 31.  

Above: West Ham United fans during their 3-2 defeat to Juventus | Photo: Reuters
Above: West Ham United fans during their 3-2 defeat to Juventus | Photo: Reuters

Slow starters

Pre-season has not gone as Bilic would have wanted, winning just one of their five friendly matches.  

The Hammers started their pre-season preparations across the Atlantic, playing two games in the USA. It was certainly a weakened side, with the majority of their first-team squad resting after their Euro 2016 campaign with their respective countries.  

They started the season on a low, with a convincing 3-0 defeat to MLS side Seattle Sounders, and ended their time over in the states with a frustrating 2-2 draw with the Carolina RailHawks.  

The Hammers then jumped on the bandwagon of a number of a number of Premier League sides, and took part in a pre-season training camp in Austria. Pre-season is all about regaining fitness lost over the summer, but Bilic will have been concerned as the poor results continued.  

The suffered another frustrating 2-2 draw, this time with FC Slovacko, which was followed by a humbling defeat to Rubin Kazan, conceding another three goals. They managed to round off their friendlies in style, with goals from Carroll, Feghouli and Fletcher giving them the win over Karlsruher SC.  

The competitive matches got underway very quickly as they looked to progress into the group stages of the Europa League, when they were drawn against NK Domzale in the third round of qualifying.  

However, it didn't go according to plan in the first-leg with a brace from Matic Crnic, cancelling out Mark Noble's effort which saw them slump to a surprise defeat. However, they turned it around in the opening game of the Olympic Stadium with goals from Cheikhou Kouyate and Feghouli giving them a 3-0 win in the return leg. 

Bilic's side rounded-off their pre-season with the official opening of their new stadium when they welcomed Juventus to Stratford, however, despite a brace from Carroll, goals from Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Simone Zaza saw them slump to a narrow 3-2 defeat

Above: Dimitri Payet celebrating his goal in West Ham's 3-2 win over Everton | Photo: Getty Images
Above: Dimitri Payet celebrating his goal in West Ham's 3-2 win over Everton | Photo: Getty Images

Ones to remember

West Ham have a significant number of players that can have a serious impact on their season, but their will be a certain few that will stand out above the rest, and their form will have a direct impact on how the season pans out for the East London side.  

One of those names is certain to be Payet, nobody knew what to expect when he signed from Marseille last summer. But the Frenchman has become a firm favourite with the Hammers faithful after his heroics last season.  

His star shines brighter after his performances with France during Euro 2016, which has seen him linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet, but the Frenchman has claimed his love for the club, and will more likely have a bigger impact in the upcoming campaign.  

Another one of those is a new face to the club and the country in the form of winger Feghouli. Like Payet, nobody had high prospects for the Algerian after his free transfer from Valencia.  However, he has proven a good addition so far, certainly on the wing, producing  number of dangerous crosses and passes.  

Above: West Ham United Winston Reid in action last season | Photo: Marc Atkins/Offside
Above: West Ham United Winston Reid in action last season | Photo: Marc Atkins/Offside

Strength in numbers

It can be argued that West Ham have one of the strongest sides in the league, which was justified in the high finish last year, but Bilic has continued to strengthen his side over the summer.

They still might slightly short on strikers, but there is no doubt about their attacking prowess, with the likes of Payet, Noble, Manuel Lanzini and the addition of Feghouli all pushing the team forward.

The Hammers also prove a difficult team to break down at the back, conceding just 51 goals last season. The likes of Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna all proved to be vital assets last season, and will hope that Adrian can produce similar performances, although the emergence of Darren Randolph may give Bilic headache between the sticks.

Above: Aaron Cresswell in action for West Ham United last season | Photo: PA
Above: Aaron Cresswell in action for West Ham United last season | Photo: PA

Lacking in places

The Hammers are strong in numbers in most areas, but there are areas where they are significantly weak at the moment.  

The Hammers did look defensively sound, however, the unfortunate long-term injury to full-back Aaron Cresswell has left Bilic with a headache with the new season around the corner. Sam Byram looks to be a good replacement in the short-term, but it does seem that Bilic will have to dip into the transfer market for a an experienced head to take into the new season.  

Manchester United youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has been mentioned on a temporary basis, but the sensible rumour seems to be Inter Milan's Davide Santon. The Italian, who was linked with a move to Sunderland earlier in the summer, already knows the league following his time at Newcastle United and would be a good replacement until the return of Cresswell.  

The forward positions are the other position that need some serious attention. Despite rumours of big talent been imminent, nothing has failed to materialise and with Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho looking unsettled, and Carroll's injury record, they could be down to the bare minimum.  

The one rumour that still seems to have any weight is that of AC Milan's Bacca, with the Colombian is still yet to decide if he would like to make the move to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Rumours have also begun to surface of a possible move for Mario Gomez, but one thing is clear is that the Hammers need to make a move in the transfer window sooner rather than later.  

Above: Reece Oxford in action during West Ham's 3-2 win over Juventus | Photo: BPI/Joe Toth
Above: Reece Oxford in action during West Ham's 3-2 win over Juventus | Photo: BPI/Joe Toth

The future is bright  

One thing that the Hammers have always been known for is their youth set-up, bringing through the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard to name a few, but their youth sides seem to producing some great young talent once again.  

The under-23 side won the Premier League Cup last season, guided by Terry Westley, and it is expected that a number of those players could make their break through for Bilic's side this season, and Reece Oxford and Reece Burke stand out among the rest.  

Oxford was thrown in right at the deep end last season, making his debut in Europa League, becoming the club's youngest player and then impressed at the Emirates Stadium on the opening day, at the age of 16.  

Oxford would go on to play seven times for the senior side, but did play a huge part in Westley's young side, and his performances in the England under-19 side this summer has seen his stock sky rocket.  

The youngster has been heavily linked to Jose Mourinho's Manchester United, but it does seem that the Hammers will be the best place for his development, and with his solid performance in the win over Domzale, he could be a great asset to Bilic as the season goes on.  

Another talent that could prove a great addition to the senior squad is Burke, the 19-year-old spent his season on loan with Bradford City, and showed he had the credentials to be a top player.  

Burke made 34 appearances for the Valley Parade side, scoring two goals and his importance to the side was clear at the end of the season, winning seven trophies at the club's end of season awards. Burke has returned to the Hammers this summer, and will be hoping that he can start making some senior appearances for the side.  

Predicted finish 

7th   

West Ham United will take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday, August 15 with kick-off 8pm BST.