West Ham United – Fantasy Preview
Manuel Pellegrini's first season at West Ham United did not go according to plan. The Argentine manager entered the campaign with arguably one of the most talented squads outside the Top Six having shelled out nearly £100 million on ten new players during the summer transfer window. However, the hopes of challenging for a Europa League spot were incredibly short-lived. The Irons lost their opening four matches and claimed just two victories during the first three months of the season. It wasn't until late October that the combination of a new manager and a much-changed team finally started to pay off. From GW10 through GW22, only Liverpool and Manchester United lost fewer matches than West Ham. The run saw them taking 24 of a possible 39 points and enter the 2019 calendar year inside the top half. Even though the momentum gained was extinguished by a run of seven defeats in their next 13 matches, the club closed out the year on a four-match unbeaten streak to salvage a 10th place finish in addition to their second-highest number of points (52) in the past eight seasons.
West Ham's most significant weakness last season was the lack of offensive firepower. Only the three relegated clubs were held scoreless more often in the 2018-19 season. Although they scored as many goals as Watford and one more than Leicester City, the distribution of their scoring was not on par with the other middle of the pack clubs. Vardy single-handedly had a hand on 43.1% of Leicester City's, the same percentage that Arnautovic and Chicharito provided for West Ham. With addressing the frontline as the number one priority, West Ham cleared house upfront. Marko Arnautovic departed for the Chinese Super League, Lucas Pérez went back to Spain, and Andy Carroll was released. Pellegrini reloaded his attack by bringing in Eintracht Frankfurt striker Sébastien Haller and Villarreal playmaker Pablo Fornals. The club also will get a boost from the return of long-term injury absentees Manuel Lanzini and Andrii Yarmolenko. Will expectations get the better of West Ham for the second straight season? Can Haller be the 20-goal man the club needs? How will Pellegrini get the best out of a crowded midfield?
This article will run through West Ham’s players from an FPL and Fantrax perspective based on how the team could look come GW1.
Lukasz Fabianski (£5.0m) provided the steady pair of hands in between the sticks that West Ham lacked in the 2017-18 season. Fabianski finished inside the top-three for saves for the fifth straight season, making a league-best with 148 saves in 38 appearances. Despite conceding 55 goals and posting a mere seven clean sheets, the Poland international still managed to place fifth of all netminders with 146 FPL points. Fabianski's ability to rack-up saves made him one of the most reliable options in fantasy over the last few years, as he's failed to return more than 120 FPL just once since the 2014-15 season. You can expect him to be a fringe top-five goalkeeper this season, but more clean sheets will be needed to validate his new starting price rise (£5.0). Summer signings David Martin and Roberto will compete for the back-up role following the departure of Adrián.
Last season West Ham conceded the ninth-most goals in the league. The silver lining was the splits with and without center-backs Fabián Balbuena (£4.5m) and Issa Diop (£4.5m). West Ham allowed 20 goals and kept five clean sheets in 18 matches with the duo at the heart of the defense. In games when only one featured alongside Angelo Ogbonna, they shipped 35 goals and underwhelmed with two clean sheets. The numbers suggest their defensive record will improve if Balbuena and Diop can stay fit. This essential from an FPL perspective when you consider both center-backs are £4.5m, which gives them differential value with matches against Brighton, Watford, Norwich City and Aston Villa following the season opener against Manchester City. In Fantrax, Balbuena and Diop will serve as streaming options since there currently going undrafted in most 10-team leagues.
Moving to the fullback positions, Ryan Fredericks (£4.5m) is my pick to open the year as the first-choice right-back. The 26-year-old had a mostly forgettable debut campaign, but he did show signs of improvement during the final stretch. Both his pace and attacking skill set are complementary to Pellegrini's style of play while Pablo Zabaleta, who was the starter last season, will turn 36 this year. On the left, Arthur Masuaku (£4.5m) is coming off a relatively stable season which saw him beat out Aaron Cresswell for a regular starting berth. Masuaku is best suited for playing as a wingback in a five-man defense, but his pace and power saw him preferred to Cresswell's distribution qualities at the traditional fullback position. With that said, youngster Ben Johnson has put his name in the mix after impressing in pre-season. The 19-year-old is far from a finished product, yet he could emerge as Masuaku’s understudy. None of the fullbacks are on my fantasy radar.
Felipe Anderson (£7.5m) is the crown jewel of West Ham's midfield. The Brazilian scored nine goals and had four assists in 36 appearances in his maiden Premier League campaign. He also played a direct hand on 17.31% of West Ham's goals and was the leader in chances created (65). Anderson's 155 FPL points were the 11th-most by a midfielder last season and the fourth-best of all midfielders from outside the Top Six. Having put together these numbers in a season when the club struggled with injuries, the 26-year-old should be able to avoid a sophomore slump. I'm expecting Anderson to be a top-15 midfielder in FPL and validate his current ADP (MID 8) in Fantrax leagues.
The next best option in midfield is Manuel Lanzini (£6.5m). Manu earned himself a place in the Argentina squad for the 2018 World Cup but suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in training only six days before the tournament started, leaving him unable to return to action until the final months of last season. Injury concerns are the only thing holding me back from putting Lanzini higher in fantasy rankings since he's only made 30+ appearances in one of his four terms at West Ham. Still, from a sheer talent perspective, his upside is hard to match. Back in the 2017-18 season, he scored or assisted on 40% of West Ham's goals when selected and created more scoring chances (40) than any of his teammates. The most crucial fact about Lanzini when it comes to fantasy is that he's proven commodity when fit. He's finished no lower than midfielder 28 in FPL and midfielder 15 in Fantrax in his last two seasons of 2000+ minutes. With a clear place in the trio of advanced midfielders, Lanzini will enter season undervalued in FPL and Fantrax (ADP 92.23 / MID ADP 33).
The third nailed-on midfielder is youngster Declan Rice (£5.0m). From a statistical and eye test perspective, Rice was excellent last season. The 20-year-old averaged 2.9 successful tackles per match, which ranked 5th amongst all midfielders, and led West Ham in both passes per game (44.6) and pass completion rate (86.4%). Rice, however, doesn't offer enough offensively to merit consideration in fantasy quite yet.
The rest of the midfield isn't guaranteed, but summer signing Pablo Fornals (£6.5m) has all the tools needed to carve out regular minutes. As a playmaker with tons of potential, Fornals arrives after spending the last two seasons at Villarreal. Fornals’ assist total regressed by 75% last season, providing just three after tallying 12 in his first season, but his overall ingenuity in the attacking position outweighs the statistical red flag. When put under immediate pressure, his technical skill allows him to thread runs in behind and play one-two combinations with ease. When given time on the ball, he's able to anticipate gaps and create lanes for through balls by manipulating defenders with his positioning. This combination of positional awareness and scoop of passing suggest he could be a perfect complementary piece alongside Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini. Fornals' tactical flexibility is also crucial, considering the addition of Sébastien Haller means Michail Antonio will likely be on the right-wing. His ability to play across the advanced and central midfield positions means he can slot into any of the formations Pellegrini will use this season. Though my stance on Fornals is very positive, he's a better day one investment in Fantrax leagues since his current ADP is 98th overall and 38th amongst midfielders.
The Spaniard also faces competition from Michail Antonio (£7.0m), Andrii Yarmolenko (£6.0m) and Robert Snodgrass (£5.5m) for a spot in the five-man midfield. From a tactical perspective, Antonio is by far the most flexible player at Pellegrini's disposal. Last season the 29-year-old scored six goals and provided six assists while seeing time at different positions across 33 appearances. Antonio also topped the charts in minutes per shot (32.2), minutes per shot in the box (52.5), and minutes per shot on target (84). His durability will once again be a significant factor in determining how he fits into the plans with four other midfielders capable of playing on the right. Antonio has solely featured as a forward in pre-season, but with the arrival of Sébastien Haller, he would only retain that role if Pellegrini goes to a two-forward system. The variety of factors at play make it hard to stamp a label on Antonio from a fantasy perspective. Therefore, I would avoid him in FPL and suggest caution when it comes to Fantrax Leagues. His current ADP of 87 seems too high, with Lanzini representing a better pick at a slightly lower cost.
Yarmolenko scored two goals in his first nine appearances last season but suffered an Achilles injury in October, ruling him out for the rest of the term. As a winger who loves to cut inside and shoot, I expect him to make some noise this season. The same goes for Snodgrass who got a one-year deal after featuring heavily last season. In terms of quantity and quality of service from the wing, the Scotland international ranked 12th in crosses (170) and 8th in accurate crosses per game (1.8) amongst all players last season. Since each player offers a different dimension, we could see Pellegrini use a rotation on the right-wing.
All eyes will be on club-record signing Sébastien Haller (£7.5m) this season. The Frenchman arrives as the replacement for Marko Arnautovic, yet he has a different skill set than his predecessor. Arnautovic was the club's top goal-scorer and top shooter in each of his two seasons, scoring 21 goals on 133 shots. Over the last two seasons for Eintracht Frankfurt, Haller scored 24 goals on 96 shots in Bundesliga play. Haller's numbers show that while he was a lower volume shooter than Arnautovic, that didn't hinder his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. But a goal conversion rate (25.5%) better than Arnautovic (15.7%) and Chicharito (22.7%) isn't his only positive. The physically imposing target man averaged a Bundesliga best 6.9 successful aerial duels per match last season and ranked third amongst all forwards in key passes with 35.
In his first pre-season start we got a snapshot of what the summer signing will bring to East London. Haller looked good when retaining possession, dropping into midfield on a few occasions to provide lay-offs and knockdowns to advancing midfielders. He didn't get on the scoresheet but did get close twice. His first effort was denied from inside the six-yard box, posting up for a recycled, second ball. Later, off a Lanzini corner, he had a powerful downward header cleared off the goal line. Haller won't have many pre-season minutes under his belt when West Ham opens the season against Manchester City, which makes him an early differential. In Fantrax leagues, I would consider drafting Haller at his current ADP (63.3). He's being selected after Joshua King (56.6) and ahead of Troy Deeney (64.63).
Chicharito (£6.5m), who scored seven goals in 25 appearances last season, will play second fiddle to Haller. The Mexico international's minutes will hinge on the health of Haller, meaning he isn't an option in FPL. Chicharito will have streaming value in Fantrax leagues when he gets spot starts, yet he remains a boom or bust option as a goal dependent forward.