Hugh Southon: ‘It’s Europe or bust but West Ham still look short in a few key areas’

Do West Ham really have the squad to qualify for Europe this season?

There’s only one prediction anyone can surely make with any degree of serious confidence as we begin another Hammers season.

After all the usual debate about the squad, signings, net spend and the possibility of European qualification, there’s only one certainty – this is a critical season for the manager.

Most of the fanbase were reasonably happy with things at the end of last season – the fear of relegation had disappeared months previously and a top 10 finish – despite all the chat about seventh – was generally acceptable.

This time around it’s different – a record signing has arrived in the shape of Seb Haller along with £27 million Pablo Fornals. The squad is far more settled than it was this time last year, and expectations are high after the squad was stabilised last term.

Pellegrini has fulfilled one big objective by playing the ‘West Ham Way’ but he needs to add a genuinely successful season to that and in my terms that is top seven with a big run at a trophy.

Unfortunately however, we still look light in one or two areas – up front and at left back where the one time rock solid Aaron Cresswell has looked well out of sorts.

The boss has been playing 19-year-old Ben Johnson in front of him in pre-season, given Arthur Masuaku’s late return, and may hold a lot of significance for Cresswell’s future – we shall see.

Up front it’s really difficult to see Chicharito and Antonio as sufficient back up to Haller who for all the top reports – and I do like the fella a lot – still has to do it at Premier League level. Just being cautious.

Midfield offers more than enough options and it maybe that by December one or two could be agitating for a move given there are something like 13 looking for a start.

Pre-season favourites to fill them will be Fornals, Anderson, Rice, Lanzini and Wilshere with Noble or Snodgrass bang in the frame.

The manager spent most of his first season discussing that seventh place and his European pedigree suggests that as far as he is concerned, nothing less will do.

Having spent the dough last year and this, a rise from 10th to eighth place will probably not be sufficient improvement – we are in the days when it is top seven or bust.

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