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Transfer Rater: Balotelli to West Ham

Football Whispers
 By Peter Thorne

West Ham will be too reliant on Andy Carroll without reinforcements

It's West Ham's first season at the Olympic Stadium, and Slaven Bilic's men will also welcome European football to their new home. The Hammers have left Upton Park for the start of a new era, and Bilic will have to balance their Premier League campaign with their exploits in Europe.

Here's a look at what's in store for West Ham in 2016-17 ...

At a glance

West Ham begin a new era in a new home with hopes that this is the year in which the club begins the climb to becoming one of the Premier League's major players.

Quick predictions

Premier League: 8th
FA Cup: Quarterfinalists
League Cup: Semifinalists
Europa League: Round of 32

Transfer business

West Ham finished last season desperately needing a striker and so, in true Hammers fashion, they have responded by trying to offload two they already have. Diafra Sakho is obviously unhappy and Slaven Bilic rightfully argues that there's no point keeping an unsettled player, but the number of top-quality replacements suggested, only to be discarded, has put supporters on edge.

The £20 million club-record signing of Andre Ayew may go some way to appeasing the supporters, but whether Ayew is the leap forward in quality that the club teased early on in the transfer window remains to be seen. As is, Andy Carroll remains the only obvious source of goal scoring.

Havard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore are all excellent additions to the squad with French left-back Arthur Masuaku being drafted in from Olympiakos to ease any worry since the injury to Aaron Cresswell.

There is much hope for teenage signings Toni Martinez and Ashley Fletcher, both of whom will hopefully find the net a bit more than the other unwanted forward, Enner Valencia. However, there's a nagging sense that, in selling James Tomkins to Crystal Palace and Sakho to whoever wants him, the quality of player going out is better than that coming in.

Andy Carroll
Without further reinforcements up front, West Ham will be very reliant on Andy Carroll.

Key questions

One of the key questions, will the notorious "Boleyn Curse" -- the team regularly stripped of key players due to injury -- travel the few miles to Stratford, has already been answered. News that prospective England left-back Aaron Cresswell is out for four months just provokes the other perennial West Ham conundrum: Is the squad depth deep enough to sustain a challenge?

The answer is almost certainly "No," unless Bilic can produce the type of surprises that he regularly conjured up last season. With Chelsea and Liverpool back strongly, it's likely Bilic may find the going a little harder this campaign. Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how the crowd react to having their numbers swelled by 20,000 each game. Can the notoriously hostile environment at Upton Park be transported to a plush state-of-the-art arena? And will the London Stadium become another tricky venue for opponents?

Potential pitfalls

At full strength, the team look strong in most departments and should have a solid season with a good chance of having at least one good cup run. If Bilic manages to negotiate his side into the group stages of the Europa League, however, it puts a strain on the squad strength. The Hammers have always been a mercurial club no matter who the personnel are, and the team aren't yet big enough to attract the very top players to fully complement their big names. A degree of compromise might have to be made with youngsters from the academy trying to find their way alongside the more-experienced campaigners.

London Olympic Stadium
Moving from the Boleyn Ground to the London Olympic Stadium marks a new era in West Ham's history.

One to watch 

The surprising sale of Tomkins to Palace can surely only mean that Bilic plans to give ample game time to both Reece Burke and Reece Oxford. Rumours that either one of the Manchester clubs hope to sign Oxford refuse to go away, however, and although the club will fight tooth and nail to retain him, the main onus may well fall on central defender Burke. The 19-year-old sparkled for Bradford City on loan last season, winning a host of awards including player of the season. There seems little point in delaying his inevitable rise further.

Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.


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