West Ham’s season will get off to an early start with the east London club beginning their European adventure in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, July 2nd. New manager and former West Ham player Slaven Bilic will make his Upton Park managerial debut with the Hammers hosting Andorran outfit FC Lusitans in the first leg of a Europa league qualifier that West Ham qualified for through the fair play table. This is West Ham’s first appearance in a European cup competition since 2006 where they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the first round by Palermo. If West Ham are to reach the group stages they will have to contest 8 games in total with 6 of those coming before the Premier League season kicks-off in early August. The question is, will these early competitive games against lower competition aid or hinder Bilic in his early days as the West Ham boss?
These early matches could give Bilic the opportunity to teach and install his system to his new squad which may help the former Besiktas manager hit the ground running once the domestic season starts up. West Ham has already been training as a group in Ireland where they have been put through the paces in preparation for these rare early July competitive fixtures. On the other hand the Europa League could potentially impede Bilic in reaching his domestic objectives at Upton Park due to the high number of games it takes to progress through the competition. It is rumored the West Ham board has made his task to achieve a top 10 finish in the league (while also playing more attractive football than former manager Sam Allardyce) a feat West Ham has only achieved 4 times in their last 10 Premier League campaigns.
In order to meet this objective the club has already secured the transfer of two prominent players to deal with a potentially long European campaign. The first was 23 year old Spanish defensive midfielder Pedro Obiang from Sampdoria in Spain who should bring an added defensive presence to the middle of the pitch. Most recently, French 28 year old attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet was brought in to provide a creative spark to the Hammers attack. The former Marseille man contributed 8 goals and 17 assists last season and West Ham would probably be happy with half that production in his first season in England.
Does West Ham have the squad depth to handle this European adventure? We will find out sooner than later because while most teams around Europe will be focused on fitness and training the Hammers will be in results mode trying to get to the group stage of the Europa League. If they get to the group stage and there is a decent chance they will because they will be a seeded side all the way up to the final playoff draw. The club will certainly be active late in the transfer window to add squad depth in order to deal with those dreaded Thursday to Sunday Europa League turnarounds. Fortunately for West Ham, Bilic has experience navigating the Europa league leading Besiktas to of the round of 16 last season.