West Ham United have arrived in Portugal and manager Sam Allardyce is looking forward to see how his players shape up in the pre-season Guadiana Tournament.
Big Sam's side take on Portuguese Primeira Division sides Sporting Clube de Portugal and SC Braga in Portimao on Monday and Tuesday evening respectively, with the manager expecting two stern examinations of his team's credentials.
The Hammers landed in Faro on Sunday afternoon before boarding a coach for a 90-minute transfer to the team hotel. After a team meeting and a good night's sleep, the squad headed the short distance to the Municipal de Lagos stadium for a training session ahead of the 9.15pm kick-off. Tickets for the East Stand at the Estádio Municipal de Portimão will be on sale tonight, priced €12.50.
West Ham were only confirmed as participants in the Guadiana Tournament last week, but the manager said he was delighted to take up the opportunity of facing two top-class sides in testing conditions.
"The quality of the two games are what drew us to this late venue," the manager told West Ham TV. "They are two Champions League-quality teams in Sporting Lisbon and Braga. We played Braga last year at their own ground and we're playing them again in a mini tournament here in Portimao.
"It's going to be a big test for the players, because not only is the quality of the opposition top-class, but also the heat and some of the lads having to cope with two games in two days. Some of them will play 90 minutes and some will play more over the next two days, so that will test their fitness.
"We then have the game on 10 August at the Boleyn Ground and an unfortunate week of international friendly matches again, which takes a number of players away from us in a very important week. Every team has to suffer the same and it's not ideal preparation, but that's ahead. We're focusing at this moment on facing two outstanding teams and seeing what level we're at at this stage of the pre-season."
West Ham have been back in pre-season training for five weeks now and Big Sam said the emphasis of his preparations had now moved from the physical to the mental side of the game.
The manager said the three remaining pre-season fixtures - the third at home to UEFA Champions League qualifiers Pacos de Ferreira on Saturday 10 August - would tell him whether or not his players are fully prepared for the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season.
"The physical side has been more than accomplished by now. I'm looking at the mental toughness and agility of the players. The fact of the matter is that when players go away for six weeks at the end of the season, their sub-conscious switches off and they relax.
"Then, when they come back they have forgotten what the basics are and what is needed to be successful in a professional football team that plays in the Barclays Premier League. I've been talking about the mental side of these pre-season games since the start of our trip to Germany.
"The trip to Germany was about fitness, training every day and feeling fatigue in your bodies and still playing. Now it's about switching on mentally and making the right decisions, playing your position as you should play it and making fewer mistakes than the opposition, because mistakes get punished at this level. It's often the opposition's outstanding talent, but their ability to punish your mistakes.
"We want to see all their mental agility come into play over the next two days. Last year, when we were focused and drilled and we understood what our strengths and weaknesses were as a team, that's why we finished tenth. Hopefully we'll get back to that level by the time we've finished against Pacos de Ferreira on the 10 August."
While his focus is on tonight's Guadiana Tournament opener against Sporting Clube de Portugal, Big Sam has been on his mobile phone regularly discussing potential signings with the Board and head of player recruitment Martyn Glover.
The manager revealed that the Hammers' attempts to supplement the squad had so far been unsuccessful due to a variety of reasons.
"We've been hugely frustrated in our quest over the last three weeks or so, that any of the particular targets who we'd approached [haven't signed]. Whether it's been the player, the club or interference from another club 75 or 80 per cent through the deal attracting him to them rather than us, it has unfortunately left us with a blank space.
"All we can keep doing is trying to find another player who wants to come to West Ham United who is better than what we have already got. That is the key point - better than we already have. We can't settle for a player to make the squad up or for a player who may play a bit-part.
"This player has to be a top player, as far as I'm concerned, to make an impact. We have the same team as last season apart from the introduction of Adrian in goal and Razvan Rat at left-back, and we've lost more players than we've brought in, which is a slight concern to me.
"We do have these funds available and we particularly felt last week that it was going to be two players coming in, but unfortunately both fell by the wayside. The deals are not totally dead, but they've not been clinched either, which has left me, the Chairmen and Martyn [Glover, head of player recruitment] extremely frustrated."