Monday 18 Jul
Updated Thursday 13 Oct 21:48
Opinion

Five Talking Points - Austria Tour

The hot topics for discussion as West Ham United continue their pre-season schedule by facing Czech First League side FC Slovacko...
 
New (and old) faces

West Ham United’s first-team squad is taking on a more familiar look following the return of a number of international stars to pre-season training.

After missing the US Tour to recharge their batteries after summer duty with their respective national teams, Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph, Senegal midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate and Ecuador forward Enner Valencia have travelled to Austria.

With new father Michail Antonio and Turkish winger Gokhan Tore also in the party, Slaven Bilic has plenty of options to pick from in the Hammers’ three pre-season matches with FC Slovacko, Rubin Kazan and Karlsruher SC.
 
Winging it

The addition of Antonio and Tore to a squad that already includes Sofiane Feghouli and Martin Samuelsen means Slaven Bilic now has an embarrassment of riches in wide areas.

All four – potentially alongside Academy prospect Marcus Browne – will battle the yet-to-return Dimitri Payet for places on the wing in the managers’ favoured 4-2-3-1 formation ahead of the 2016/17 season.

With Payet surely guaranteed to start when fit, and Antonio potentially filling the right-back berth when the Premier League campaign kicks-off, it may be that Feghouli and Tore are fighting it out for the starting place on the right of the front three?
 
Centre points

With West Ham’s squad continuing to be strengthened in all areas, there will also be fierce competition for places in the two deeper-lying midfield positions.

Last season Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Pedro Obiang and Alex Song were the four players who battled for two starting positions ahead of the back four, with the former being handed the majority of starts by manager Bilic.

Since then, Song has departed, but his squad place has been filled by the experienced Norway international Havard Nordtveit, who arrives with a superb reputation after five seasons in the Germany Bundesliga with Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Throw the ever-developing Josh Cullen into the mix and, if all five are fit, Bilic has a few more tough decisions to make…
Czech mates

The value of pre-season results will be debated for as long as football is played, with some fans concerned when their team loses warm-up fixtures, and others blissfully unaffected.

On Tuesday, West Ham face a team which finished eighth in the Czech First League last season in 1. FC Slovacko – a team every Hammers fan would expect to beat ten times out of ten in a competitive fixture.

However, with players returning to action after summer breaks and others still seeking their best form and peak fitness, and multiple substitutions expected to disrupt the flow, Tuesday’s game will be played in far from normal circumstances.

With temperatures also expected to top 28C (83F) in northern Austria, the result in Rohrbach should not be taken too seriously, or should it?
 
To strike, or not to strike?

Winston Reid’s goalscoring heroics have some fans suggesting on social media that West Ham do not need to shell out £20m on a new striker – but simply push the big New Zealand defender into a forward role instead!

While Reidy was rightly proud of his calm and accurate finish against the Carolina RailHawks, and then bashed in an unstoppable free-kick in training, the truth is that the Hammers are still very much on the lookout for a prolific frontman.

With Andy Carroll and new boy Ashley Fletcher of the taller, target-man variety, the Club is more than likely looking for a smaller, poacher-type. If you were Slaven Bilic, which player would you be seeking to sign?