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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Anderson and Yarmolenko signings offer West Ham fans cause for optimism

New manager Manuel Pellegrini has bolstered his squad with seven new additions

West Ham United new signing Andriy Yarmolenko in action during a pre-season friendly win over Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park. Reuters
West Ham United new signing Andriy Yarmolenko in action during a pre-season friendly win over Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park. Reuters

When you inherit a team who finished the campaign with a goal difference of negative 20, it doesn't take a genius to identify what areas of the squad need improving.

A club that struggles to keep clean sheets, Manuel Pellergini's arrival at West Ham United this summer has heralded an overhaul of a squad that thus far has seven new additions, including three defenders and a goalkeeper.

The statistics are damning. Since their return to the Premier League in 2012, West Ham have only finished with a positive goal difference once, in 2016. The past six seasons in the top tier have seen them finish with an overall goals tally of minus 45.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart was gladly returned to Manchester City following a miserable season in East London that has badly damaged the former England No 1's fragile reputation following some high-profile blunders. Club stalwart James Collins, 34, and Patrice Evra, the 35-year-old January arrival, have been released with both players' form notably in decline last season as West Ham staged a late rally under David Moyes to finish 13th in the table.

In are Lukasz Fabianski, the experienced Poland international, to cover for Hart's departure. Fabianski, 33, arrives from relegated Swansea City with one of the highest save percentages in the Premier League over the past two seasons and should have realistic aims of starting ahead of the inconsistent Adrian.

Ryan Fredericks, 25, joins to challenge another ageing set of thirtysomething legs - Pablo Zabaleta - for the right-back berth having left Fulham following the club's Championship play-off final win in May.

The arrivals of Issa Diop, 21, and 26-year-old Fabian Balbuena offer younger energetic legs to a defensive line that struggles against pace, although Frenchman Diop, the €25 million (Dh106.7m) purchase from Toulouse and Balbuena, the Paraguayan from Corinthians, are untested in England's top tier.

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While Pellegrini has looked to address the main areas of concern, it is further forward where the Chilean has been really bold in the transfer market.

Jack Wilshere was picked up after being discarded by Arsenal. The England midfielder has a history of long periods out injured, but did make 38 appearances in all competitions last season. Wilshere, 26, has the quality short passing game so lacking in West Ham's engine room last season.

Felipe Anderson made all the right noises to ingratiate himself among the West Ham faithful upon sealing a €38 million (Dh162m) transfer from Lazio last week. Referencing the names of clubs legends Bobby Moore, Carlos Tevez and Paolo Di Canio, the one-cap Brazil international said he wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a hero to the fans, a near guarantee of early-season fidelity among the natives.

On his day the club's record signing possesses the type of threat that Pellegrini says will bring a "new dimension" to West Ham's attack, lessening the reliance on Manuel Lanzini and one that should create more chances for the impressive Marko Arnautovic up front. Those days were far too infrequent last season. Anderson was limited to just nine Serie A starts with Lazio following an injury-hit campaign and a public falling out with manager Simeone Inzaghi.

The other exciting addition has been that of Andriy Yarmolenko. After nearly 100 goals for Dynamo Kiev, the Ukraine flyer endured a disappointing season at Borussia Dortmund last term, although Tottenham Hotspur fans will remember one superb curling effort in a Uefa Champions League group match.

That goal illustrated what Yarmolenko does best - draw defenders out of position on the right hand side, move on to his favoured left foot, play one-twos with teammates around the edge of the box and look to test the goalkeeper with a fearsome shot. The 28-year-old Ukrainian possesses the speed and technical skill to become a potent weapon on the right side of West Ham's attack.

Whether Pellegrini looks to play the majority of his summer signings in Saturday's pre-season match against second-tier Preston North End remains to be seen. But should the bulk make up the starting XI for the Premier League opener against Liverpool on August 12, West Ham can look forward to the 2018/19 campaign with renewed optimism.