The countdown to West Ham United's return to the Barclays Premier League is nearly over and manager Sam Allardyce for one cannot wait to get started.

After 49 tough npower Championship games last season, culminating in a superb Play-Off final victory against Blackpool, West Ham will see the fruit of their labour this Saturday when Aston Villa visit the Boleyn Ground. Big Sam has the benefit of years of experience in the top tier and knows the Hammers will need to be at their best as they face some of world's best on a weekly basis.

"I'm always slightly nervous, apprehensive and not too sure what we're going to be like against Premier League opposition. I think if we're at our best we can do very well but the bottom line is we've got to be at our best every game. We cannot afford a dip or a slip up.

"In the Championship last season we could have been at 80% and still won a game. We'll have to be 100% every game to win in the Premier League but I'm really, really looking forward to getting started."

With the Boleyn Ground set to be a sell-out for his first game in the Premier League as Hammers manager, Big Sam cannot wait to hear the roar as the team head out of the tunnel at 3pm. Confidence among the squad will be have been boosted by the 1-1 draw with UEFA Champions League qualifiers SC Braga on Friday evening.

"It will be a special moment. Particularly with the game being at home in the Boleyn Ground, it's important we get off to a positive start.

"The performance against Braga is more like what you want to achieve going back into the Barclays Premier League. We've got just over a week to work on the smaller things in terms of how we approach the Villa game.

"We will brush up our tactics both in possession and out of possession and making sure we're spot on in getting our basics right to get the best performance and best result we can right at the very start of the season."

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With five new signings already confirmed, Big Sam's new-look Premier League side was further boosted with the arrival of highly-rated France international Alou Diarra on Friday. The 31-year-old midfielder will join up with his new team-mates this week and with at least two training sessions planned for the Boleyn Ground this week, he has plenty of scope to show his new manager what he can do.

"He's a class player with a huge amount of experience at international and Champions League level and at the top of the league in France. His game ratio is outstanding and his fitness is looking good and he flew through the medical.

"This lad is available to play every week. He'll bring an awful lot to our team and we're looking forward to settling him in and seeing what he can do".

Diarra will complement a midfield already boasting plenty of talent with Premier League experience through the likes of Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble, Gary O'Neil, Matt Taylor and fellow new recruit Momo Diame. Diame in particular caught the eye against Braga on just his second appearance for the club and Big Sam is excited to see what he can add to his midfield.

"He's a talented player and I think he will grow with us and get better and better with us. He has that bit of quality you need when you go into the Premier League.His passing, his closing down and his tackling and getting forward all look very positive.

"Modibo Maiga played wide right and then, moved up front and we saw a bit of what he's about as a frontman. He received the ball well and had a good spring in the air."

There is now strictly limited availability for Saturday's season opener against Aston Villa. To secure your seat, click here.