In anticipation of the 2019/2020 Premier League season’s kick-off between Liverpool and new boys Norwich, at 20h00 tomorrow on August 9th at Anfield, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the 20 squads that’ll be competing this year. In this tenth and final instalment, we’re continuing the series with a promising West Ham United and a Europe-bound Wolves.
West Ham United – The team
Traditionally, West Ham United are one of the more tumultuous regulars in the Premier League when it comes to both on-field and off-field news. This summer started off pretty much following this trend with Marko Arnautovic kind of publicly forcing a big-money transfer to China, but the Austrian was let go and the chaos that it could have caused was nipped in the butt by manager Manuel Pellegrini and the rest of the club’s management. The Hammers now actually look ready to seriously compete for the European spots after an active transfer window. As usual, a lot will come down to how well Pellegrini and his coaching staff can glue the team together in a way that brings them points on a regular basis. One thing is certain though, the West Ham roster contains plenty of footballing talent, perhaps more than most contenders for title of “best of the rest”.
Generally, Manuel Pellegrini likes to have his Hammers turn up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, in which the line is led by a powerful, but mobile striker. This role will very likely be filled by new £45-million signing Sebastien Haller from Eintracht Frankfurt. While the Frenchman is one of the less selfish strikers you will see in top-tier football, as he has a tendency to drift out to the wings as well to create space for the other attacking players. He will find himself playing with three very attack-minded players to help. With the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Felipe Anderson, Robby Snodgrass and the finally fit-again Andriy Yarmolenko at his disposal, the Chilean manager can count on an abundance of creative attacking players to play off Haller. While the double pivot in the middle protects the team’s balance, especially in moments of transition, the full-backs often get the freedom to push up the pitch and support the team’s attacking efforts from the flanks. With the amount of agility between West Ham’s forward players, this can result in quick moves and inter-positional changes that are hard to track for opposing defences.
A few times, the Hammers displayed some of their attacking prowess last season, but in terms of defending, they were pretty mediocre on too many occasions. They conceded a total of 55 goals in 38 Premier League games last season. Only eight teams boasted worse defensive numbers. West Ham full-backs Ryan Fredericks (right) and Arthur Masuaku (left) are quite young and dynamic, which allows them to bomb up and down the pitch at will, but they are not always the most defensively sound. The team’s lock on the door in midfield will likely be composed this year of the talented Declan Rice and the fit-again Jack Wilshere. This is a double pivot that breathes footballing quality, but on the purely defensive side, it can be fragile. While Rice is young and improving, Wilshere is known for many qualities, but winning back balls is not necessarily one of them. The centre of the back line will be formed by Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena, which is possibly one of the best central duos outside of the top six. They possess the physical presence to dominate their own area, they provide an attacking threat from set-pieces and they have the technical qualities to build up attacks from the back. In goal, the Hammers have one of the top performers in the league in the shape of Lukasz Fabianski. Looking at West Ham’s defensive set-up as a whole for the coming season, it’s definitely an attractive one, but not necessarily the most solid from a purely defensive point of view. One of Pellegrini’s focal points during the pre-season will have been to solidify defensive displays on the wings and on the midfield in order to seriously have a go at a European spot coming season.
In terms of transfers, West Ham have been prolific this summer by signing a few exciting prospects, some of which might slot into the starting eleven straight away. These direct reinforcements include Villareal’s Pablo Fornals (€28 million) and Frankfurt striker Sebastien Haller (€45 million), both of whom could be fantastic additions to the Premier League this season. The likes of problematic star Marko Arnautovic (€25 million to SIPG), central midfielder Pedro Obiang (€8 million to Sassuolo), goalkeeper Adrian (free transfer to Liverpool), and forwards Lucas Perez (€2.30 million to Alaves) and Andy Carroll (released) all left the club, but at first sight, it looks like the Hammers have not diminished in strength and quality this season. A top-10 finish should be more than possible for West Ham.
West Ham United – Potential FPL targets
Thanks to performances in his last two seasons as part of a leaky defence, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski (£5.0m) is our first pick from the West Ham roster. Over the past few years, the Polish shot stopper has developed into one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the Premier League. Last season, at a price of £4.5m, he conceded 55 goals and kept just 7 clean sheets, but still recorded a more than decent 143 points, courtesy of 148 saves and 15 bonus points. The year before that, he scored 157 FPL points (56 goals conceded, 9 clean sheets, 137 saves, 14 bonus points). This season, Fabianski is priced at £5.0m, but we believe he could still be a bargain, especially if the Hammers finally gain some more defensive solidity for the 2019/20 campaign.
Our second pick is a slightly unusual one for us, as it concerns a player new to the Premier League. It’s kind of risky to go for a newcomer from the very start, but Hammers striker Sebastian Haller (£7.5m) looks like he could be the real deal real quickly. West Ham splashed a cool £45 million to bring the Frenchman in from Eintracht Frankfurt, where he scored 15 goals and provided 9 assists in the Bundesliga last season. He also reached the semi-finals of the Europa League, scoring 5 goals and providing 3 assists in the process. With Arnautovic gone, Haller looks like the nailed-on starting number nine for Pellegrini, and he could be in for a big debut season. The Hammers are looking more like a team with an idea behind it than they have in a long time and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Haller’s price tag turning out to be a real bargain as the season advances.
At a price of £4.5m in the official game, Hammers right-back Ryan Fredericks could be a good pick as fourth or fifth defender in your squad. After a sort of unremarkable season last year, the Englishman seems to have made the right-back position his over the ageing Pablo Zabaleta. Pellegrini will allow him plenty of freedom to get further up the pitch and get crosses into the box for Haller to work with. He played just 1038 minutes of Premier League football last season, in which he scored a goal and recorded a total of 38 FPL points, but the expectation is for him to get much more playing time in an improved defence this season. Fredericks could be a pretty valuable budget-enabler, but do keep in mind that West Ham’s first game is at home against reigning champions Manchester City.
Wolves – The team
Both in terms of the Premier League and its official Fantasy equivalent, Wolves had an excellent debut season last year. With a clear and successful style of play, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men battled their way to an impressive seventh place, which means Europa League football for the Wolves this season. Players like Raul Jimenez, Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota proved to be real bargains in FPL last season. Considering the fact that Wolves have not lost any of last season’s decisive names in combination with the club’s acquisition of some new and exciting talent, they will probably be competing for at least a European spot again coming season.
Wolves generally line up in a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-2-1 formation with which they aim at building up from the back, starting with the centre-backs. The left and right central defender will take up wider positions to push the two wing-backs further up the pitch, with either one of the two central midfielders (usually Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho) dropping a bit deeper when the opposition is pressing hard. This approach provides Wolves with width on the pitch that allows them to pass the ball out from the back, thanks to their back line’s technical and passing abilities. Either the dropping central midfielder (in case of an aggressive press by the opposition) or the central defender (usually Connor Coady when the opponent is not pressing forward very much) will try to move the ball up the wing-backs in their advanced positions when possible.
In combination with the wing-backs and the central midfielders, Wolves’ attacking three players will provide several options for short passes and quick combinations. Also, while the wing-backs stretch the opposition’s defensive line, the forwards are expected to find and run into the gaps that inevitably are created. The constant movement of the forward players and the frequent switching of sides require a certain amount of tactical discipline, but can cause a lot of disruption in enemy’s defences when executed well.
When defending, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men tend to drop back into a close-knitted 5-4-1 formation that employs a medium-high press, starting in the middle of the pitch. Simply said, they keep the centre of the pitch overloaded and force the opposition wide. On the flanks, passing options back into the centre are cut off, which forces opponents to pass backwards. When Wolves recuperates the ball in these areas, they can strike on the break straight-away. Usually, the ball is crossed diagonally to the attack-minded wing-back on the other side, while the forward as well as one of the central midfielders make runs forward to support the counter.
As far as transfers go, Wolves have had a more than decent summer so far. The club has not lost any of its most influential assets from last season, while managing to bring in some very interesting prospects. Top scorer Raul Jimenez (€38 million) and Anderlecht midfielder Leander Dendoncker (€13.50 million) were signed permanently after their loan periods at Molineux last season, while the talented 19-year old winger Pedro Neto came over from Lazio Roma for €18.30 million, together with his team mate, central midfielder Bruno Jordao (€9.20 million). Wolves also splashed the cash on AC Milan attacking talent Patrick Cutrone (€18 million) and brought Real Madrid defender Jesus Vallejo in on loan for the coming campaign. With these signings, the club has created the type of squad depth that can see them seriously compete in the Premier League, the domestic cups and the Europa League.
Wolves – Potential FPL targets
After his incredible debut 2018/19 season, Mexican striker Raul Jimenez (£7.5m) is still going to be a very popular FPL asset in the build-up to this season’s gameweek 1. In 3112 minutes of Premier League football, he scored 13 goals and provided 10 assists for a total of 181 FPL points. He started that season at a price of £5.5m. Just let that sink in for a moment… With United at home, Everton away and Chelsea at home in the first five gameweeks, Wolves have a difficult opening set of fixtures, but last season’s number seven has shown a certain fixture immunity. In regard to Jimenez, there is no reason to think he could not replicate his stats from last season or indeed improve on them as a result of Wolves as a whole improving. At his current price tag, that would be he’d still be very good value.
Possibly even better value could be found this year in the form of Jimenez’ partner up front, Diogo Jota (£6.5m). The Portuguese forward was listed as a midfielder last season, which meant that each of his 9 goals was worth five points. On top of that, he provided 8 assists, which brought him a total of 139 from a total of 2352 minutes of Premier League football. This season, Jota is listed as a forward in the official game, but he could still be of great value to your team as a second or even third forward. He is expected to get the bulk of the minutes as a partner of Raul Jimenez up front, so it’s wise to at least put him on your watchlist.
Our final Wolves pick is midfielder Leander Dendoncker (£4.5m). As a more defence-minded player, the young Belgian scored 48 FPL points while on loan from Anderlecht last season. This was the result of 1465 minutes of PL football, 2 goals and 3 clean sheets. He is expected to form a midfield with Neves and Moutinho this season, which would mean that his current price tag represents an incredible bargain. He could be a starting midfielder who regularly plays ninety minutes for a side competing for a European spot, who can record the occasional attacking return and is an absolute budget-enabler. Dendoncker is currently selected by just over 14% of the teams in FPL and if your team is not amongst those, he’s worth considering.
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