Premier League 2020-21 preview No 19: West Ham United


Guardian writers’ predicted position: 14th (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinberg’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 16th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 500-1

When Mark Noble used Twitter to voice anger at the controversial sale of Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion, the midfielder laid bare the discontent eating away at West Ham’s soul and sent them lurching into crisis mode before a ball has been kicked.

Although it is legitimate to question whether West Ham’s captain stepped out of line and undermined David Moyes by going public less than half an hour after Diangana’s departure, the other side is that the midfielder is in tune with an increasingly furious fanbase. Noble bleeds claret and blue. He knows why supporters are livid after seeing one of their academy graduates join a rival and if civil war is about to break out again in east London, it will be a problem for Karren Brady, David Sullivan and David Gold if Noble is not on their side.

The 33-year-old’s voice matters and although he knew that his post would create problems for the unpopular trio in the boardroom at West Ham, he still clicked send. His was not an isolated view. Diangana, who did not want to leave after impressing on loan at West Brom last season, was popular in the dressing room and the 22-year-old winger’s transfer came as a shock to his teammates. It was not long before Declan Rice, West Ham’s most important player, had liked Noble’s post and there was further embarrassment when Jack Wilshere told Diangana on Instagram to “Go and do your thing in a club that respects you”.

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For all the anger, though, this is a complicated story. West Ham’s owners were unimpressed with Noble and it must be bitter to see Wilshere questioning their wisdom. Indeed it is because of signings such as Wilshere – six league starts since joining on a three-year deal in 2018 – that West Ham felt compelled to sell Diangana.

How they finished

West Ham, who have made no signings and need to sell to buy, are paying the price for poor decisions in the transfer market. Wilshere was handed that contract on the request of Manuel Pellegrini, who was hired on a deal worth £7m a year in 2018. In their eagerness to back Pellegrini, West Ham created problems down the line. They gave the Chilean a big budget and allowed him to pick his own director of football, Mario Husillos. Now, however, the clean-up operation is underway. Pellegrini and Husillos were sacked last December and West Ham, who spent last season fighting to stay up, are struggling to shift the duo’s expensive misfits.

Finding buyers for Albian Ajeti, Jordan Hugill and Roberto Jímenez was the easy part. But Moyes, who is desperate to strengthen his defence and bring balance and depth to a lopsided squad, has found it harder to move Felipe Anderson, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini. Short of other options, West Ham felt they had to accept when the offer came for Diangana.

Sullivan, the most powerful figure at the club, was warned that it would be a PR disaster. On the other hand one source points out that Moyes has accepted the need for pragmatism. Even though Diangana was looking good in pre-season, West Ham do not lack wingers. Where they are weak is in defence. Their full-backs are frail and, with Issa Diop struggling alongside Angelo Ogbonna in the centre, Moyes hopes to beef up his back four by signing the commanding Burnley centre-back James Tarkowski.

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