2015/2016 – A daunting test for West Ham

The Hammers have a huge year ahead of them this upcoming season. With a decent few firsts and lasts to have to overcome, West Ham are going to have to navigate a significant amount of change to improve on their 12th place finish in 14/15 characterized by a tale of two halves of their season.

The most important first that the Hammers have to tackle is that of their first year under new manager; former Croatia boss, Slaven Bilić. This will be one of the biggest challenges that the East London side face as they had settled very much into Sam Allardyce’s style of play over the four seasons that he spent with the side.

Bilić is promising fans a more exciting style of play that has contrasted what the side have put out for the majority of their time under Allardyce. Given that Bilić’s competitive debut as manager is only two weeks away, he could be forgiven for not having fully implemented his style by then.

This time crunch combined with the large – numbers and physicality wise – British core which he has inherited suggests that West Ham fans may have to wait a while before seeing this promise come true.

Despite this, not all is to be worried about with this managerial change. A fresh manager can usually bring about a surge of morale for a side and given West Ham’s very poor end to last season, that may be necessary.

That as well as the fact that the Hammers already have a couple of exciting players that enjoy going forward in the form of Mauro Zárate and Enner Valencia could be a strong starting point of emphasis for Bilić.

Using these players as a base, Bilić can look to revamp and reinforce the team with the transfer market using yet another first (kind of): the first time in nine years that West Ham have made Europe.

European football has always been a big calling card for many footballers looking to get experience against the best in the world and West Ham can provide that for this upcoming season.

This is essentially a first due to 15/16 being the initial season in this generation of West Ham’s line-up in which they get the privilege of European football. It also happens to be the last of this type of opportunity due to sweeping regulation changes in UEFA competitions that have recently been unveiled.

2015 is the last year in that a team can reach Europe through the domestic Fair Play tables, that of which West Ham topped last season. As a result, West Ham has a unique opportunity to attract top talent this year.

The transfer window has begun positively for them and with the board reportedly handing Bilić at least £25 million in funds to bolster the squad to his liking, that will only continue. While still manager-less, the West Ham board signed Pedro Obiang, a Spanish under-21 international who plays as a holding midfielder.

Obiang looks to be a long-term replacement for Alex Song who was at the East London side on loan last season even though they have been rumoured to want him permanently.

With any luck, and a great deal of negotiating, the Hammers could enter next season with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Verdan Corluka, Charlie Austin, and Dimitri Payet all added to the relatively strong current first team.

For the East London side to improve on their performance last year, they will definitely need this strength in numbers. This is due to the alarming history of non-regular top six British teams entering Europe and struggling to stay up at the same time in recent years.

In the 11/12 season, Newcastle had a very strong year by finishing fifth and gaining qualification into the Europa League. During 12/13, they managed to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament but at the cost of finishing 16th in the league, just above the drop zone.

Fulham, Stoke, Swansea, and Everton all saw similar progressions in the past four years due to their successes in the Europa League and West Ham may very well follow suit.

The majority of the failures of these teams in the Premier League during their European seasons were down to not having a large enough squad. A lack of available rotating players saw injuries creep up on these teams and frequently be forced to field an under experienced team.

If Bilić fails to add enough first team rotating quality into the side, then the Hammers will have that exact same issue. They managed to surprise the league in the first half of the 14/15 season but with a much busier schedule, West Ham cannot be expected to keep up that level of performance.

That is, of course, unless they successfully bolster their squad and with Bilić’s intention to change the squad’s style of play, that may just happen.

The biggest ‘last’ that West Ham as a club and organization will be going through will be their last season at their current stadium; the Boleyn Ground.

Though this should not affect their performance in any way, it has been the Hammers home ground since 1904 and therefore has great sentimental value to all West Ham fans alike. It would only be fitting that the board and every member of staff would want to see the stadium get a proper send off with a very strong season.

There are also heavy incentives for the East Londoners looking towards the 16/17 season for having a strong year this time around. Not only will West Ham be moving into the downsized Olympic Stadium (which will still boost their seating capacity from 35,000 to 55,000) as an upgrade for their facilities, but they will also start to see the money coming in from the new television deal.

According to reports, if West Ham stay in the Premier League between 2016 and 2019, the club will see an estimated £38 million in extra revenue than they would have received under the old deal. All of the extra income from increased ticket sales and TV licensing combined could see the Hammers become a constant top ten team in the Premier League. All they have to do is remain in the league and see the money start flowing in.

All of the three reasons just mentioned make it of paramount importance for West Ham to hold the Europa League season slump off. The last thing that the Hammers need would be an unstable position in the Premier League come March or April where their safety is not secured and have a dead tired squad to try and survive.

That would be particularly important this year due to the strength of schedule that they have in the run to the end of the season. From March onwards, they have to face the likes of Spurs, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United so a dip in form there could be fatal for the Hammers.

A truly successful season from West Ham may have to see them in the upper bounds of the mid-table come March. With any luck, they could still be in a cup competition or two at that stage and if it all came together as such, it would be hard to argue that as a bad season from the Hammers. Currently it looks like that may be a bit of a stretch but it is difficult to see them being relegated either.

What it all comes down to is how ambitious the club are in the transfer window and how Bilić gels with the team as he attempts to turn it into his own. Keep an eye on the Hammers this season for it could be another make or break year for them and either will be worth your attention.

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