Pub talk

Blowing Bubbles’ top writers settle down to put the world to rights...

West Ham surpassed many people’s expectations last season but what would you consider a success this time around? Brian Williams: I’m still gutted that we didn’t get to Wembley last year – I’d love to win the FA Cup again. A trip to Stockholm for the Europa League final wouldn’t be too shabby, either. And if we can finish above Tottenham, we will have had an awesome season if they are as good as they were last year. Lucy Woolford: Before last season, I would’ve said that success in 16/17 would be a top half finish. Even though expectations have risen, I think we have to stay realistic. Success would be to match last season’s table position and to have a really good go at the FA Cup just to show a bit of progress. That said, I think it’s going to be a tough one settling into our new home.

Emily Pulham: Finishing sixth or above with a decent cup run. We need to demonstrate consistency, season after season, in the top half of the table and try to build and progress each year. Kiran Moodley: I’d really like us to give the Europa League a proper go this season. I think it’s a realistic trophy to seek, along with the other domestic cups. That’s where the focus should be. Because of the influx of top managers – Conte, Mourinho, Guardiola, along with a first full season for Klopp – maintaining seventh place will be difficult, so I don’t see us finishing any higher. We’ll be lower, if anything. Are you happy with West Ham’s transfer dealings so far? BW:The midfield is starting to look really exciting – Dimi could find himself struggling to get a game! My biggest concern is that buying Feghouli means that Slav is looking at Antonio primarily as a right

back. I prefer him in a full-on attacking role. LW: It’s been a shame to see so much public discussion about our potential transfers. David Gold sometimes needs a roll of Sellotape handy so that he can tape David Sullivan’s mouth closed! That said, signing Lanzini up was fantastic, heard great things about Ashley Fletcher and excited to see Feghouli in action. All in all, yes I’m happy.

EP: Yes I am. I wouldn’t mind if they were less public, but the few signings we’ve made so far seem like they will be underrated and quite good for us. I’m actually not a fan of a big-money marquee striker signing – all of our best signings have been shrewd and good value for money, and I’d rather that we carried on in that vein. KM: Where’s the striker? It’s always good to invest in young talent, so Ashley Fletcher looks promising, as long as he doesn’t disappear and cause problems like Ravel Morrison. I worry we have bought too much into our midfield, just like Arsenal, thus not bulking up our defence or strike force.

What do we still need to do before the transfer window closes at the end of August? BW: Find a strike force that is going to convert the highest possible percentage of chances that I hope we are going to create. LW: Defenders. We’ve got so much potential going forward and in midfield, it feels like our back four need strengthening. I have nothing against our current options but one or two knocks throughout the season and we could be in trouble. I know the common thought is that we need a top class striker, but I think we could cope well with what we have. EP: Ensure Billic knows Michail Antonio is not a right-back and then, subsequently, sign a right-back.

KM: A credible, proven striker who can guarantee us 15-20 goals a season. The defence is always the worry as well, especially after last season when I don’t think we were entirely convincing in that department. I think Bilic needs some leaders in defence and some real sturdy players. While I love the manager, he is also the man behind Croatia’s heaviest defeat in their history, and at times we were all over the place at the back last year. The club sold James Tomkins for £10millon earlier in the transfer window. Could the club turn the offer down

or should they have kept the home-grown centre-back? BW: I’m always sorry to see a player like Tomkins go, but on this occasion I believe it’s a sign of progress. He’s always been stylish, and I think the Palace fans will love him. The harsh truth, though, is we’ve got better central defenders. £10m looks like good business to me. LW: When I heard the news, my first reaction was ‘ah no, not James Tomkins’. That was quickly followed by ‘£10m? Yes please!’ From a sentimental point of view, it’s a shame to see him go and we‘d love to see more ‘one club players’, but that was a good bit of business in my eyes. He’ll do well at Palace too I think. EP: I wish we could have kept him but £10m for us and regular playing time for him is a win-win situation. Maybe we could pull a Collins and sign him back next year?

KM: I think Tomkins was past his best. I can’t remember a brilliant display by him last year and when I think about it, he has never really shone as much in the Premier League as much as he did when we were in the Championship. It’s a shame to see English players leave the club, but I think we have always had a good home-grown contingent in all of our squads. Former Hammers boss Sam Allardyce replaced Roy Hodgson as England manager after the Three Lions’ dire Euro 2016 campaign. Do you think this is a good appointment?

BW: Well, I suppose it means England won’t get relegated! And there is a chance the odd West Ham player may get a cap from time to time. But I don’t think anyone will need to lay in extra stocks of Valium before an England game in the next couple of years. LW: I think Sam is the man for the job. He’ll put order back in where it’s needed and organise a side well. That’s the difficulty with an international side, there’s no consistency – Big Sam can use his systems to make England tactically successful. People might say an Allardyce side is boring to watch, but let’s face it, it can’t get much worse than it has been in recent years.

EP: I had hoped I’d have seen the last of Big Sam and his long-ball brigade, but I think it’s a good appointment. He excels at cleaning up a mess and guaranteeing stability, so he’s perfect for the role. Sure, he’ll never win the World Cup – but he also won’t get spanked by Iceland. KM: I’ve had so much stick in the past from fans for backing Big Sam and I’m really pleased he got this role. England fans think we need someone great, rather

than realising we need Big Sam to sort it out. The same was the case for West Ham when he came in. He doesn’t get credit for building teams up. England needs an overhaul like we did in 2011. I’m so pleased for him. Who will win the Premier League? BW: Stoke City! Why not? If Leicester can, anyone can. LW: I think Man Utd can return to former glory this season and make a great push for the title. As much as I’ve gone off Mourinho over the years, it’s hard to see past him winning the league at the first try. I know, City have Pep now but I feel like United will be hungrier than ever to see the trophy back at Old Trafford. EP: If they can build on last year and not lose steam towards the end, Tottenham will win it. I’m not happy about this, 15 The right man? Former West Ham manager Sam Allardyce got the England job after Roy Hodgson quit either, but they are a very good side right now

KM: I have absolutely no idea and I’m not really bothered, because all I want is a really competitive league. After last season, one hopes that we’ve reached a stage where every team feels it can break into the top ten and even further. That’s what I want more than anything: no clear winners, no definitive top four. An open league. And which three teams do you think will go down? BW: Hull look like a club in turmoil. Watford are a basket case. And there’s always a surprise package in the relegation stakes. Who knows? It could be Stoke if they don’t actually win the league.

LW: I think the promoted sides will struggle and I can see Burnley and Hull heading back down to the Championship. I’m also going to say that Sunderland will have another difficult season but won’t pull out of it this time. I think there has to be a step-up in quality this season after a strange season last time round. EP: I’m so bad at this game. At a guess, Watford, Hull and Bournemouth will be possible contenders for relegation, although now that I’ve said that, they’ll definitely stay up! KM: I’m inclined to go for the three that got promoted, but I feel that Burnley and Hull will have learnt from their previous mistakes. Sunderland should be fine with Moyes, while I have a feeling Watford and Bournemouth could go down. As we know from season two with Allardyce, it’s always the second season after promotion to the Premier League that is the real difficulty. BBM

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