Pity the roles Avram Grant's been cast into, but commend the results. The new West Ham manager made his Premier League debut in the wake of Jose Mourinho's departure at Chelsea and took the Blues to the Champions League final. His next shot came with a capsized Portsmouth, where he took a relegation-bound team to the FA Cup final. Now he's caught-on at Upton Park, managing a club who seems to be living on borrowed time.
That's just a feeling. Until their first match ends at Villa Park on Saturday, West Ham is no-worse situated than any of the Premier League's other clubs, yet there seems to be a growing, negative momentum around the Hammers. They dropped into a relegation battle last year after two straight mid-table finishes. They still owe Sheffield United money for what happened in 2007. Dean Ashton was forced into premature, injury-induced retirement. The Icelandic interests in the club were replaced by Davids Gold and Sullivan, who unveiled the financial chaos into which the club'd fallen. Gianfranco Zola's support was undone by a series of blown leads during the 2009-10 season. Be it karmatic, a symptom of bad luck, or as a symbol of Premier League's financial problems, there's a negative momentum to what's happening at the Boleyn Ground, and after last season's finish, there's nowhere to go but down.
That trend belies what is a decent group of talent. With the possible exception of Carlton Cole (and the version of Carton Cole we're talking about), West Ham lacks world class players, but there are no places of obvious weaknesses in their team. Avram Grant's inherited a squad with a lot of options, particularly in midfield, where nine or ten different players have claims to starting spots.
Likely to battle the Wolverhamptons and West Broms of the world for a place in next year's Premier League, Hammers' supporters can be positive. Their players are mid-to-lower table quality, and their manager's recent track record says he'll be able to forge something from the cluster.
Borrowed time, gloom-and-doom - these are intangible themes for smart-ass previews. Results are tangible, and surviving with West Ham will be a lower bar than making an FA Cup final with Portsmouth.
Major Comings: Frédéric Piquionne's followed Avram Grant from Portsmouth. Thomas Hitzlsperger's arrived from Germany via Italy. Pablo Barrera comes from Pumas, Winston Reid's World Cup form wins him a spot in the Premier League, and Tal Ben-Haim comes to play for his countryman.
Significant Goings: Striker Guillermo Franco is the only player who appeared at last ten times that is not returning.
Still There: England internationals Robert Green and Matthew Upson anchor the defense. They're joined at the back by Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Manuel Da Costa, James Tompkins and Herita Ilunga. Scott Parker anchors a midfield that also features Radoslav Kovac, Mark Noble, Valon Behrami, Jack Collison, Alessandro Diamanti and Junior Stanislas. Carlton Cole is the main threat up top, with Zavon Hines providing the promise.
|Rk||Club||Avg||W||D||L||GF||GA||1st||Top 4||Top 7||Relegated||Best||Worst||Range*|
|15||West Ham United||14.2||12.4||6.7||18.9||51.3||73.1||0.0%||0.1%||1.8%||20.0%||2||20||8-19|
Why: Though the Hammers should expect individual improvements on last year's defending, the team is still set to allow too many goals. Their improvement from last year's 17th place to the projection's 15th is entirely attributable to a better attack and better luck. Last year, every goal West Ham United allowed seemed crucially ill-timed. Those circumstances are unlikely to be replicated this year.
Best Case Scenario: The defense performs up to expectations. Robert Green and Matthew Upson perform closer to the world class players their national team statures imply. James Tompkins is replaced by somebody effective (perhaps a full season of da Costa or Reid). Young players like Zavon Hines and Junior Stanislas improve. Avram Grant feasts on the bottom half of the table to makes a run at European football.
Nightmare: The defense is as bad as last year's. Carlton Cole can't find consistency, the midfield remains a hodge-podge of maybe-could-be nor never-quite-was players, and the atmosphere of a club in crisis pushes the Hammers into the Championship.
Most Likely: There isn't the quality to avoid a relegation battle, but there's enough to win one. Avram Grant keeps West Ham up for another year.