Why I’m tipping Diarra to shine at West Ham

Here we go then… we’re back in the top division of English football. Hello Premier League. Did you miss us? Thank goodness we don’t have to play Bolton this season.

There are lots of questions to be answered about the next 38 matches. Is the squad strong enough to survive? Will we be involved in a relegation scrap or will we have a solid, ultimately vaguely boring season?

If we go on a losing run, how long will it be until the knives are out for Big Sam? And how many times will we get our regular two-minute slot on Match Of The Day after midnight, with the pundits talking exclusively about the other team? (Likely answers: fingers crossed, hopefully head above water, about two games and every week.)

It’s fair to say that we haven’t had the best of pre-seasons. I had hoped to get one over my Ipswich Town-supporting friends by stuffing them in the recent friendly but naturally we succumbed in traditional West Ham fashion, losing 3-1 and thus ensuring acute embarrassment for months to come. Apparently, we won every pre-season game
the last time we started a PL season under Avram Grant, and we all know what happened there, but even so, it doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

Pre-season transfers have been interesting, with the will-he-or-won’t-he Andy Carroll saga hogging the headlines. Except it seemed fairly obvious from the outset that he didn’t want to come and we’ve ended up looking quite silly. Sam Baldock, who’s looked decent over pre-season and has scored a few goals, confusingly doesn’t seem to feature in Sam’s long-term plans, but there’s a lot of hope for our most costly signing Maiga, who will hopefully contribute a few and be the new Kanoute. Rob Green has gone west, but Jaaskelainen is in to replace him, and it’s a welcome return for James Collins, who probably has a point to prove.

However, if I was to stick my neck out, the signing of Alou Diarra looks a steal to me at £2m. He wasn’t successful at Liverpool but he could be a very shrewd acquisition, adding experience to the midfield. And we still have Carlton Cole… maybe this will be his season.

Which all leads us nicely to the big kick-off and this weekend’s game against Aston Villa, who were hilariously inept last time around. They might be a bit tougher to beat this season though, since they’ve made what could prove to be a class signing in their new manager Paul Lambert – a man who is very good at getting the best out of what is an average-looking team.

It’s difficult to believe that they could be quite as bad as last season, but on the face of it, you have to consider this a winnable fixture. I’m refusing to do a prediction for this match, or indeed the season as a whole, but it goes without saying that it’s absolutely crucial we get off to a decent start this weekend. We are looking for the result first and foremost, but also a performance – or at least semblances of a performance – which gives us something to hang onto going into our second match and prove that we can mix it with the big boys, thus avoiding “doing a Wolves”.

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