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Men's Football West Ham may have struck gold with Manuel Pellegrini

THIS was a transitional season for West Ham, with new manager Manuel Pellegrini at the helm promising a bright future for the club.

Pellegrini arrived last June, immediately setting about bringing in nine new signings to galvanise the club.

The future looked promising, with the likes of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere coming in.

The start of the season, though, seemed to come too early, with the players at times looking like they had not been introduced to each other, let alone played together for the first four games.

But it all changed with the 3-1 away win against Everton in September — Pellegrini’s show was finally on the road.

After that game, the team had a series of good results, culminating in a run of five wins out of six games in December. The fans were thrilled with the attacking football being served up on a week by week basis. A real return to the West Ham way.

Flair players like Anderson thrilled the fans with audacious skills, such as the fantastic curling shot that secured the points against Crystal Palace. Anderson showed flashes of skill reminiscent of former Hammer Dimitri Payet at his best.

Two signings that really stepped up were Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena, who formed an impenetrable barrier at the back. Then Angelo Ogbonna let no-one down when he deputised, first, when Balbuena got injured and then when Diop lost form.

But the pick of the new signings was goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who performed heroics between the posts for the whole season. The many points achieved due to Fabianski can only be guessed at but his presence was immense throughout the season.

Another huge plus was the development of Declan Rice. He began the season uncertainly, getting dropped for the second game against Arsenal. But after that he was back, growing in stature, excelling as the holding midfielder in front of the back four. By the end of the season Rice had added some goals and two England caps to his collection.

Pellegrini’s willingness to give young players a chance was a welcome development, something sadly lacking since the distant days when Gianfranco Zola was manager. As well as Rice, the manager gave Grady Diangana an opportunity which he accepted with both hands.

Others given a chance included Ben Johnson, Conor Coventry and Xande Silva. 

It was also good to see crowd favourite Michail Antonio back to his best in the latter part of the season.

The highlights of the season were the victory at Tottenham in April and the significant improvement in home form, which included victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.

However, with the highs come the lows and there were a few of those.

The disappointing start to the season, with the four losses, and the humiliating FA Cup exit away at Wimbledon. Many had thought it could have been West Ham’s year in the competition and it could have been with a little more application at Wimbledon.

So overall it was an exciting season, the best so far at the London stadium, with nine home wins recorded. 

There was a strong finish with three wins. The final placing of 10th could have been higher, without the inconsistent form, particularly at the start of the season. 

However, supporters will argue they were let down by bad officiating which arguably cost them at least five points, away at Manchester United and home to Leicester. 

A bit more consistency would have secured the Hammers at least a seventh-placed finish and potential European football.

But all in all fans will be looking forward to next season with anticipation. 

The club may have found a hidden gem in Pellegrini as manager. Those inside the London Stadium feel he has some idea of what he is doing in the dugout.

It remains to be seen whether the board stick their noses in and continue their awful habit of interfering. However, should they stay clear, the team should be able to move up to the next level, bolstered by a few astute signings once the transfer window opens.

The manager will be looking at the striking department, which has proved inconsistent. 

The Chilean is likely to shift one or two out and bring some in. Whether Marko Arnautovic is coming or going remains to be seen. He certainly has the potential to be a 20-goal-a-season player but as Pellegrini has pointed out, he needs to remain focused on his role and not be tempted away by big money moves in Asia.

The team also needs strengthening at the full back positions.

Should things click into place in 2020, expectations high among fans will be extremely high and fans will dare to dream about what can be achieved by the men in claret and blue.


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