29/08/2014 13:02 BST | Updated 29/10/2014 05:59 GMT

Team Focus: New Signings Provide Early Encouragement for West Ham


With the relationship between Sam Allardyce, the West Ham board and fans forced to near breaking point at the start of the year the future at Upton Park didn't look too bright. The club stuck by the manager and Allardyce eventually steered the Hammers to a 13th placed finish, but rumours of unrest behind the scenes persisted going into the summer.

The chairmen, Davids Sullivan and Gold, were demanding a brand of football that the fans would approve of, with more goals seemingly a necessity if Allardyce were to keep his place at the helm, with just 40 scored over the course of last season. The appointment of former fan favourite Teddy Sheringham as an attacking coach was one that the club were quick to deny undermined the manager's position.

The former Bolton boss spent big on World Cup breakthrough Enner Valencia, with concerns over Andy Carroll's fitness justified following another injury lay-off. The club would later sign Diafra Sakho from Metz to bolster their attacking ranks further but it is the much maligned Carlton Cole that has got the nod up front thus far, opening his account for the season in last weekend's impressive victory over Crystal Palace.

That followed an opening day derby clash with Spurs, which West Ham were unfortunate to lose courtesy of an unlikely injury time winner from Tottenham new boy Eric Dier. It's true that the East Londoners had a one man advantage for a decent portion of the game but it is also true that the Hammers were on top prior to Kyle Naughton's dismissal just before the half hour mark, with James Collins receiving his marching orders to even things up in the second half. West Ham had mustered six shots to the visitors' one before Tottenham were reduced to ten and Mark Noble's miss from the resulting penalty was undoubtedly a big factor in the narrow defeat.

Allardyce's men looked decent, ending the game with 18 shots at goal, though their profligacy in front of it had seemed to carry over from the previous campaign. The same could not be said for the following weekend's short trip to Selhurst Park, where West Ham again peppered their opponents' goal with 17 shots, this time hitting the target with eight (just four vs Spurs).

Along with Cole's second half strike to seal the three points there was somewhat of a collector's item from Stewart Downing, whose neat finish doubled the Hammers' lead in the first after an excellent volley from newcomer Mauro Zárate had opened the scoring. The Argentine's performance gave the fans real reason for encouragement that their side now had that cutting edge and confidence in the final third, with Zarate earning a WhoScored rating of 8.19 for his efforts.

In their opener with Spurs, West Ham completed 173 passes in the opposition half of 245 attempts (70.6% accurate), with those figures understandably dropping slightly against a team with a full compliment of players for the entire match against Palace, to 153 and 242 (63.2%) respectively. When compared to last season's averages of 139 from 228 (60.9% accuracy) Allardyce's men have clearly been more progressive and effective with their passing thus far. Only Chelsea have mustered more shots at goal than West Ham's 35, which - when considering only Cardiff and Palace had fewer last season - represents another early step in the right direction.


Any developments and improvements further upfield often owe to a stronger defensive platform from which to build. Forwards must have confidence in their more defensive counterparts, particularly in holding midfield roles, to cover for any potential counter from their opponents. It's here that Cheikou Kouyaté's early promise has played such a key role.

The giant Senegalese has sat in alongside Mark Noble thus far and provides an intimidating physical presence in the middle of the park - also capable of dropping into defence, where he often played with Anderlecht. The 24-year old has made a team high of eight tackles and six interceptions thus far, as well as winning eight aerial duels to earn a rating of 7.69 from and a place in the team of the week last time out with a score of 8.29. While also offering a threat from crosses due to his height, Kouyate's ability to break up play has enabled Noble - arguably West Ham's most important player - the chance to pull the strings from deep. Only four players have completed more passes in the league than the former academy graduate after the first two fixtures (144).

Elsewhere Aaron Cresswell has also been solid upon making the step up from the Championship following a summer transfer from Ipswich. He offers a greater attacking threat than the full-backs at West Ham's disposal last season - a problem area for the club - and has already created three chances for teammates, with only Stewart Downing (six) managing more.

The club's Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Sheffield United in midweek was certainly a real blow but too much should not be read into it, with Allardyce making ten changes from the team that beat Palace. In the league at least, the (extremely) early signs are good for West Ham. If Enner Valencia can adapt and start to justify the lofty price tag that he demanded after an impressive World Cup showing then a top half finish could be well within their grasp.

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